The Fourth Brocha of Birkas Hamazon

Parshas Va’eira opens with Moshe Rabbeinu receiving admonition from Hashem for not being appreciative of His Ways. Thus, this is certainly an excellent time to study the brocha of bensching called Hatov Vehameitiv, “He Who is good and does good.”

Question #1: Why Beitar?

Why was a brocha created to commemorate the events that transpired in Beitar?

Question #2: Why in Birkas Hamazon?

Why was that brocha added to Birkas Hamazon?

Question #3: What a strange brocha!

Why does the brocha Hatov Vehameitiv have such an unusual structure?

Introduction:

The fourth brocha of bensching, which is called Hatov Vehameitiv, has little to do with the rest of the bensching. Whereas the first three brochos are to thank Hashem for our sustenance, the fourth brocha was created by Chazal for a completely unrelated reason. This brocha is called Hatov Vehameitiv because of the words it contains, “hamelech Hatov Vehameitiv lakol.” This article will discuss some of the halachos andconcepts of this unusual brocha.

Although in two different places (Brochos 46a; 49a) the Gemara quotes opinions that this fourth brocha is min haTorah, the consensus is that it is only rabbinic in origin. (We should note that the Midrash Shmuel [13:9] attributes the opinion that Hatov Vehameitiv is min haTorah to a very early authority, the tanna, Rabbi Yishmael.) To quote the Gemara:

Hatov Vehameitiv was established by the Sanhedrin when it was located in Yavneh, because of those who were killed in Beitar, as noted by Rav Masneh, “On the very day that those killed in Beitar were allowed to be buried, they established, in Yavneh, Hatov Vehameitiv. Hatov’ is to acknowledge that their bodies did not decompose; ‘Vehameitiv’ is to acknowledge that permission was granted to bury them” (Brochos 48b; Taanis 31a; Bava Basra 121b; see also Yerushalmi, Taanis 4:5).

Hatov Vehameitiv

To avoid confusion, we must realize that there are two completely different brochos that Chazal call Hatov Vehameitiv. The other brocha, which is only eight words long, Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam Hatov Vehameitiv, is recited upon hearing certain special, wonderful events or when breaking out a new bottle of wine. The laws germane to the shorter brocha will be left for a future article.

What happened in Beitar?

The Mishnah in Taanis (26b) records the calamities that occurred on Shiva Asar beTamuz and on Tisha Be’Av. Regarding Tisha Be’Av, it states, “On the ninth of Av, it was decreed upon our forefathers that they would not enter Eretz Yisroel, both the first and the second Batei Mikdash were destroyed, the city of Beitar was conquered, and the city of Yerushalayim was plowed under.” The Talmud Yerushalmi (Taanis 4:5), quoting the tanna, Rabbi Yosi, dates the destruction of Beitar as being 52 years after the churban of the second Beis Hamikdash, or, almost exactly 1900 years ago.

To understand the extent of the tragedy that happened in Beitar, let us quote some of the sources of Chazal.

A large city called Beitar, whose population was many tens of thousands of Jews, was ruled by a great Jewish king. All the Jews, including the greatest of the chachamim, thought that this king was the Moshiach, until he fell in battle to the non-Jews and the entire city was slaughtered (Rambam, Hilchos Taanis 5:3).

The Roman emperor Hadrian owned a massive vineyard, twelve mil long and twelve mil wide (about fifty square miles). The Romans used the bodies of those who were killed when Beitar was destroyed as a wall, the height of a man, around the vineyard. Hadrian refused to allow the casualties of Beitar to be buried. Only with the succession of a new emperor was their burial permitted (Yerushalmi, Taanis 4:5).

The city of Beitar had 400 shuls, each of which had 400 cheder rabbei’im teaching in them, and each rebbe taught 400 children. When the Romans conquered the city, they wrapped all the students and all the teachers in their seforim (which, in their day, were rolled like scrolls) and set them ablaze (Gittin 58a).

Enough pairs of tefillin shel rosh were found from those who died in Beitar to fill a mikveh. According to a second opinion, enough pairs of tefillin shel rosh were found to fill three mikvaos (Gittin 57b).

For seven years, the non-Jews fertilized their vineyards, exclusively, with the Jewish blood of those who were martyred in Beitar (Gittin 57a).

Fifteenth of Av

We should also note the following passage of Gemara: “No festivals of the Jews were celebrated to a greater extent than were the Fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur. We understand why Yom Kippur has this unique quality – it is the day that forgiveness is granted – but why the fifteenth of Av?” Among the many answers the Gemara provides is “Rav Masneh explained, because that was the date when permission was granted to bury those killed in Beitar” (Taanis 30b-31a).

An unusual brocha

Now that we know a bit about the history behind this brocha, let us discuss the brocha itself, particularly, its structure. Of the many questions that we can ask, let us focus on the following three, which were our opening questions:

1. Why was a brocha created to commemorate this particular calamity?

2. Why was that brocha made part of Birkas Hamazon?

3. Why does this brocha have such an unusual structure?

1. Why a brocha?

Why was a brocha created to commemorate this particular calamity?

Unfortunately, there have been many catastrophes in Jewish history, which we have, thank G-d, survived, but we do not have extra brochos to commemorate them (Kenesses Hagedolah, Tur Orach Chayim 189). Most tragedies are commemorated with fast days and the recital of selichos, and most miraculous events are celebrated on their anniversary, but not with a brocha that we recite daily.

These questions are already asked by very early authorities, who suggest the following answers:

The tragedy of the destruction of Beitar was great and unique in the bizayon haTorah that resulted, when thousands and thousands of observant Jews lay unburied. When Hadrian died, and his successor permitted their burial, Chazal felt the need to demonstrate, significantly, that this chillul Hashem had ended and was, on the contrary, accompanied by a tremendous kiddush Hashem, that the bodies of the fallen had not deteriorated, notwithstanding that they had been exposed to the elements for many years.

In addition, the events of Beitar teach that, even when Hashem is angry at us, He still performs miracles. This is to teach us that Hashem never abandons us, even at times when we sin and deserve punishment (Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chayim 189:2)

2. Why in bensching?

Why did Chazal place this brocha in bensching (Rosh, quoted by Tur, Orach Chayim 189)? The rest of Birkas Hamazon is acknowledgement to Hashem for providing for us and for the wonderful land of Eretz Yisroel that He gave us. Why commemorate the tragedy of Beitar during Birkas Hamazon?

This brocha was instituted in Birkas Hamazon as a constant reminder (Shu”t Binyamin Ze’ev #351; Shu”t Mishpetei Shmuel #11). In addition, it was placed in Birkas Hamazon, which is, in its entirety, thanks to Hashem (Rosh, Brochos 7:22). Furthermore, the Rosh notes that the Yerushalmi (see our version, Sukkah 5:1 at end) states that the loss that the Jews suffered at Beitar will not be restored until the Moshiach comes. It is unclear to which specific loss this Gemara is referring, but regardless, this is another reason why the brocha of Hatov Vehameitiv was placed immediately following the brocha of Boneh Yerushalayim.

Several prominent gedolim provide an additional reason why this brocha was added specifically to bensching. After celebrating a joyous meal, people might lose sight of life’s priorities. To prevent this from happening, Chazal instituted a brocha reminding people of the tragedy of Beitar (Rabbeinu Bachya, Kad Hakemach #60; Shu”t Binyamin Ze’ev #351). This is similar to the idea of breaking a glass at a wedding and mentioning the churban then, so as to keep our celebrations in a balanced perspective. We celebrate, but still need to remember that we are missing important aspects of life that we require as Jews.

Why not in Shemoneh Esrei?

The Binyamin Ze’ev, who lived in Greece and in Venice, Italy, during the first half of the sixteenth century, asks that, if Chazal wanted the association of this new brocha to be with the rebuilding of Yerushalayim, why was the brocha placed in Birkas Hamazon and not in the weekday Shemoneh Esrei, after Boneh Yerushalayim?

The answer is that inserting this brocha in the midst of the Shemoneh Esrei would be an interruption, whereas at the time that Chazal incorporated this fourth brocha into Birkas Hamazon, bensching included only the Torah required portions, which end with the words Boneh Yerushalayim (Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chayim 189:1). (The other requests that begin with the word Harachaman,the pesukim that we traditionally recite at the end of the bensching, and the blessing we recite for the household where we ate were all added to Birkas Hamazon after this time in history.)

Text of brocha

3. Why does this brocha have such an unusual structure?

Let me explain. The numerous brochos that we recite daily follow three specific structural patterns:

A. Either they are very short brochos, such as those that we recite prior to eating, performing mitzvos, seeing unusual sites, or enjoying other pleasures, which begin with the words Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam and then close with the appropriate ending. These are called brochos ketzaros, short brochos.

B. A second structure of a brocha is the most common for a longer brocha. This type of brocha begins with the same words, Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam, and ends the brocha by repeating the words Boruch Attah Hashem and closing with the theme of the brocha. These brochos are called brochos aruchos, long brochos.

Part of a series

C. The third type of brocha is one that follows another brocha in a series. Such a brocha does not begin with Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam, but ends with Boruch Attah Hashem and closes with the theme of the brocha. This type is categorized as a brocha hasemucha lachaverta, literally, a brocha that follows another brocha; in other words, a brocha that is part of a series. For this reason, the brochos of Shemoneh Esrei, the brochos that surround the Kerias Shma, and the second and third brochos of Birkas Hamazon do not begin with Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam (except for the first brocha in the series). All begin by explaining the theme of the brocha and end with Boruch Attah Hashem and an appropriate conclusion.

The brochos of bensching

Now that we realize that all brochos fit into one of three categories, let us examine the four brochos of Birkas Hamazon and see under which category each brocha belongs.

The first brocha, Ha’zon es ha’olam, begins with the words Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam and closes with Boruch Attah Hashem hazan es hakol, “He who sustains all.” This structure fits our rules nicely, as category B: It is a classic “long brocha.”

The second and third brochos are part of a series and, therefore, do not begin with a brocha, but end either with the words Boruch Attah Hashem al ha’aretz ve’al hamazon, or with Boruch Attah Hashem boneh (berachamav) Yerushalayim. This follows the rule of brocha hasemucha lachaverta, a brocha that follows another brocha, which we called category C.

The unusual fourth

However, the fourth brocha of Birkas Hamazon does not seem to fit any of the above three categories. It begins with the words Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam, which means it is not considered part of a series. Although it is always recited as the fourth brocha of Birkas Hamazon, immediately after the brocha of Boneh Yerushalayim, and you would think that it should be considered part of a series (Tosafos, Brochos 46b s.v. Vehatov), our introduction can help explain why it is not. Since this brocha was not originally part of Birkas Hamazon, but was added for a completely unrelated reason, it is considered a beginning brocha and not a brocha hasemucha lachaverta.

Which remaining category?

The list above contains two categories of brocha that begin with the words Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam: category A, the short brochos, and category B, the long brochos. However, Hatov Vehameitiv does not seem to fit either category. It is too long to be considered a short brocha, nor does it follow the structure of a long brocha, since it does not end with Boruch Attah, Hashem and a closing.

As you can imagine, we are not the first to raise this question. The rishonim do, and provide three answers to resolve this conundrum. But first, we need to provide another introduction.

Chazal instituted that the brocha of Hatov Vehameitiv should include three references to Hashem being King, a concept that Chazal call malchus (Brochos 47a). This we do, when we recite the following: (1) the word melech in the very beginning of the brocha, Boruch Attah Hashem Elokeinu Melech ha’olam, (2) the next words of the brocha are ha’keil avinu malkeinu, (3) ro’einu ro’eih Yisroel hamelech hatov (Divrei Chamudos, Brochos 7:69).

Why three times? The Gemara (Brochos 49a) explains that since the third brocha of Birkas Hamazon (that ends with the words, Boneh Yerushalayim) mentions the kingdom and royal family of David, there should be mention of Hashem’s monarchy in all four brochos of Birkas Hamazon. However, the mention of Hashem’s malchus that should be in the second and third brochos of Birkas Hamazon are delayed until the fourth. (The first brocha of Birkas Hamazon, begins with Elokeinu Melech ha’olam, and therefore contains a reference to Hashem’s monarchy.) Thus, in addition to the basic theme of acknowledgement and thanks to Hashem for His performing a miracle, Chazal added a theme to the brocha of Hatov Vehameitiv, making sure that Hashem’s malchus is mentioned three times.

Three hatavos

The rishonim quote a midrash that states that Chazal required adding to the brocha of Hatov Vehameitiv three hatavos: We are to say three times that Hashem is beneficial to us. Although I was unable to locate this midrash, it definitely existed at the time of the rishonim but has been lost since their era.

Among the rishonim, I found several different texts for this concept. The standard nusach Ashkenaz says hu heitiv, hu meitiv, hu yeitiv lanu,“He has done good, He does good, and He will do good to us”. The Rosh discusses the correct text, and concludes that the correct text should be hu heitiv lanu, hu meitiv lanu, hu yeitiv lanu, with the word lanu repeated each time (“He has done good to us, He does good to us, and He will do good to us.”). The Shulchan Aruch rules that this is the correct practice, and this is the standard, accepted nusach used by eidot hamizrah and Sefardim. This is a very interesting point, because the Rosh is usually the source for minhagei Ashkenaz that differ from Sefardic practice, and here, he is the source for the Sefardic custom, and most Ashkenazim do not follow his approach.

Hu Gemalanu

In addition, the rishonim mention that we should also mention three times that Hashem grants us good, which we add with the words, hu gemalanu, hu gomleinu, hu yigmeleinu la’ad –“He granted us, He grants us and He will grant us forever…”

Why no ending?

Thus, we see that the brocha of Hatov Vehameitiv is a long brocha, and yet it does not end with the words Boruch Attah Hashem and a closing, as a long brocha normally does.

Why not?

Again, the rishonim raise this question and provide several differing approaches to answer it. Rabbeinu Yonah (Brochos 36a) quotes two reasons:

I. Notwithstanding that the brocha is somewhat lengthy, it is still considered a short brocha, because all the ideas included are simply different aspects of the same theme – that Hashem is Hatov Vehameitiv.

II. When the original brocha was created, Hatov Vehameitiv was a short brocha that did not warrant an ending. Although other parts were gradually added, the original structure of the brocha was not changed (see also Tosafos, Brochos 46b s.v. Vehatov).

III. The Rashba (Brochos 46a s.v. Teida) provides a third answer. Although this brocha should have been a long brocha, Chazal did not treat it as such, because they did not want this brocha, which is miderabbanan, to be more prominent than the two brochos that proceed it, which are min haTorah and which each have the words Boruch Attah Hashem only one time. Therefore, they decided to omit an ending to this brocha, making it an exception to the rule.

Conclusion

The most important message of Birkas Hamazon is our expressing thanks to Hashem for everything He provides for us. We see how Chazal also wanted us to remember to thank Hashem for kindnesses that He did for our people, thousands of years ago. It certainly behooves us to recite the Birkas Hamazon carefully and with kavanah, and to demonstrate at least a small expression to praise Hashem.

A Sweet Change of Pace

The Torah teaches that the second time the brothers came down to Mitzrayim, Yaakov told them to bring treats from Eretz Yisroel with which to woo Pharoah. Of course, they had no chocolate to bring, but we can discuss a different royal treat that the Aztecs considered a royal beverage.

What beracha does one recite over chocolate-covered raisins?

Before answering this question, we need to ascertain the correct beracha for chocolate itself. Although the accepted practice is to recite shehakol on chocolate bars and other products, the question is, why? After all, chocolate is the product of the bean from the cocoa tree. Shouldn’t its beracha be borei pri ha’eitz? As we will see, many poskim, indeed, contend that the correct beracha on chocolate is ha’eitz, accepted custom notwithstanding. We will also investigate whether there is a difference between the beracha on dark chocolate and white chocolate.

Furthermore, to resolve our question, we must analyze which beracha one recites on fruit products that have undergone extensive processing, such as sugar, peanut butter, jams, jellies, applesauce, and chocolate. We also need to understand something about the history and methods of chocolate production. We will discover that, aside from this being interesting, all this information impacts on halacha.

Chocolate history

Chocolate is native to southern Mexico and Central America, where the Maya, and later the Aztecs, cultivated the cocoa (also called the cacao) tree for hundreds, and possibly thousands, of years. In fact, the word chocolate originates from an Aztec word meaning “warm liquid.” In their society, the royal family drank warm, unsweetened chocolate from golden goblets, and cocoa beans were used as currency. Thus, if a Jew had accompanied Hernando Cortez on his trip to the New World, he might have recited kiddush and havdalah over hot chocolate, since it qualified there as chamar medinah, a beverage used to honor guests!

The Spaniards transported cocoa trees to the Old World. Later, industrialists developed vast plantations of cocoa trees in Africa, Indonesia, and other tropical areas.

The Native Americans drank their chocolate unsweetened, whereas the Spaniards added sugar to it. This created two industries in the New World, the cocoa industry and the sugar industry. By 5340 (1580), hot chocolate flavored with sugar and vanilla was a common Spanish drink, and from there it eventually spread to the rest of Europe.

As long as chocolate was drunk as a beverage, its beracha was certainly shehakol, since we recite shehakol on all beverages (except, of course, grape juice and wine), even if, such as beer and whiskey, they are made from the five grains (Tosafos, Berachos 38a s.v. Hai).

Chocolate in the 19th century

Two major 19th century developments vastly changed the way people consumed chocolate. In 1847, an English company introduced the first solid, eating chocolate. Until this time, chocolate had never been eaten.

The second development occurred in 1876, when the Swiss devised a method of adding milk to chocolate, thereby creating what we know today as milk chocolate. Prior to this invention, all chocolate was pareve. (By the way, some European manufacturers currently add animal fat to chocolate, obviously making it non-kosher.)

How does cocoa grow?

The cocoa tree grows with large, colored fruits the size of melons or small pineapples that hang from the branches and trunk of the tree. Each huge fruit contains a sticky pulp that holds about 20-50 almond-shaped seeds, that are usually called cocoa beans. The growers separate the beans from the pulp, ferment the beans for about a week, dry them in the sun, and then ship the semi-processed cocoa beans to a chocolate maker.

How is chocolate made?

The chocolate maker roasts the beans to bring out the flavor, and then removes the shell from the bean, leaving the kernel. The kernel is ground and becomes a thick, viscous liquid called chocolate liquor. The bean turns into a liquid when it is ground, because it contains over 50% fat.

The chocolate liquor I am describing contains no alcohol – that is simply the name for the ground, liquefied chocolate. Chocolate liquor is pure, bitter, unsweetened chocolate, similar to what the Aztecs drank in their time.

The chocolate maker now separates the cocoa liquor into its two main components: the fat, or cocoa butter (nothing to do with the butter that is made from milk), and cocoa bean solids. The solids are ground into cocoa powder. The chocolate we eat consists of a mix of chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, and cocoa powder, along with several other ingredients: notably sugar, and usually, milk. This product is ground fine in a machine called a “conch” to give it a smooth consistency and taste. The chocolate is then tempered, which means that it is heated slowly and then cooled slowly, to enable the chocolate to harden properly, and so that the cocoa butter does not separate from the chocolate. Finally, the chocolate is flavored and shaped into the final product.

Thus, before being ready to eat, chocolate has been separated, fermented, dried, roasted, shelled, ground, liquefied, separated again, ground again, mixed with milk and/or cocoa butter, ground yet again in a conch, tempered, flavored and shaped.

White chocolate is made from cocoa butter, sugar, and, sometimes, milk. There are no cocoa solids in white chocolate, and that is how it maintains its light color. Some “white chocolate” products are, in reality, made of vegetable oil and chocolate flavoring instead of cocoa butter.

So, what beracha do we make on chocolate?

To this day, there is a dispute among the authorities as to whether the correct beracha on chocolate is borei pri ha’eitz or shehakol nihyeh bidvaro. To comprehend this dispute, we need to understand the halachos of fruit and vegetable products that no longer have their original consistency. Is the correct beracha on these items borei pri ha’eitz (or borei pri ha’adamah in the case of some), or shehakol nihyeh bidvaro?

The Rishonim dispute this question, many contending that even fruit that is completely pureed is still borei pri ha’eitz, whereas a minority rule that the beracha on a fruit or vegetable that no longer has its original consistency is shehakol.

What do we conclude?

The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 202:7) rules that the beracha on date butter is ha’eitz, and this is the ruling followed by most Sefardim. Ashkenazim follow the ruling of the Rama, who contends that one should recite shehakol, because of the safek as to which opinion we should follow. In practice, Ashkenazim usually recite borei pri ha’eitz when eating a product that has some of the consistency of the original product, as is the case of jam containing recognizable fruit pieces or “chunky” applesauce, but recite shehakol before eating a completely smooth applesauce, or a smooth jam, where the fruit has completely lost its consistency (Mishnah Berurah 202:42).

However, since the reason we recite shehakol is because it is a safek, several halachic differences result. For example, someone having a snack of applesauce and a beverage should make sure to recite the shehakol on the applesauce rather than on the beverage. If he recites the shehakol on the beverage without specifically including the applesauce, he now has a safek whether he has fulfilled the obligation to make a beracha on the applesauce. This is because, according to the opinions that the beracha should be ha’eitz, one does not fulfill the beracha by reciting shehakol on something else.

Similarly, someone eating a fruit and applesauce at the same time who recited ha’eitz on the fruit should not recite shehakol (and certainly not ha’eitz) on the applesauce. This is because, according to the poskim who contend that applesauce is ha’eitz, he has already fulfilled his duty to recite a beracha by reciting ha’eitz on the other fruit. In this situation, he should first recite shehakol on the applesauce and then ha’eitz on the fruit (Ben Ish Chai, Pinchas #16).

Some poskim are stricter, ruling that one should not eat an item that is definitely borei pri ha’eitz together with an item that is questionably borei pri ha’eitz, such as applesauce. This is because there isn’t any way to fulfill the need for reciting a beracha on both items without creating an unnecessary beracha. If you recite the beracha on the fruit first, then you have a safek as to whether you can recite a beracha on the safek item. On the other hand, if you recite the shehakol on the safek item first, then, according to the opinions that the beracha is ha’eitz, you have now recited an unnecessary beracha (Maamar Mordechai 203:3).

How does this discussion affect chocolate?

The average person looking at a chocolate bar does not recognize the cocoa beans, since they have been ground, liquefied, and reconstituted into a solid in the process. Can he still recite ha’eitz on the finished chocolate product, or does it become shehakol?

Many assume that the beracha on chocolate products is shehakol, based on the rulings of the Divrei Yosef and other authorities quoted by the Shaarei Teshuvah (Orach Chayim 202:19). However, since all these authorities lived at the time when chocolate was only drunk, it is difficult to base any halachic conclusion on what beracha to recite before eating chocolate, since we recite shehakol on all beverages, as mentioned above.

Among the more recent authorities who discuss which beracha one should recite before eating chocolate, two of the most respected authorities are Rav Shelomoh Zalman Auerbach, zt’l, and Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt’l, who reach diametrically opposite conclusions. In his Minchas Shelomoh, Rav Shelomoh Zalman suggests that one should recite ha’eitz before eating chocolate (Volume 1:91:2). He compares chocolate to a case of spices ground so fine that their source is no longer identifiable. The beracha recited on them is whatever would have been the appropriate beracha on the particular spice before grinding (usually ha’adamah), even if the spice is mixed with sugar, and even if it is mostly sugar (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 203:7). Let me explain this case with an example.

What beracha does one make on cinnamon sugar?

Cinnamon is the bark of a tree, and as such its beracha is borei pri ha’adamah (we do not recite borei pri ha’eitz, since we eat the bark and not the fruit). “Cinnamon sugar” is a blend of cinnamon and sugar, in which the cinnamon cannot always be identified by appearance, although it is clearly the more pronounced flavor. Based on the above-quoted ruling, one should recite ha’adamah before eating cinnamon sugar.

Why are spices different from finely ground fruit and vegetables, over which Ashkenazim recite shehakol?

Since this is considered the way that one “eats” spices, they do not lose their beracha, even though they can no longer be identified (Mishnah Berurah 203:12).

What beracha do we recite on sugar?

As I discussed in a different article (See Topical Tropical Plants — Papaya, Pineapple, and Palm Hearts), there is a thousand-year-old dispute concerning whether the correct beracha one should recite before eating cane sugar is borei pri ha’eitz, borei pri ha’adamah or shehakol. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 202:15) concludes that we recite shehakol on sugar; however, someone who recited either borei pri ha’eitz or borei pri ha’adamah on cane sugar should not recite a new beracha, since the correct beracha is disputed.

Originally, sugar was produced only from sugar cane. Today, a large percentage of the world’s sugar crop is extracted from the sweet white root of the sugar beet, and a much smaller amount is produced from corn (maize). However, mass cultivation and production of sugar beets did not begin until the 19th century and was a result of the Napoleonic Wars. When the British blockaded Napoleon’s Europe, one of the products that became unavailable was cane sugar, which does not grow in Europe’s cold climate. Out of concern that his subjects might revolt over the unavailability of imported sugar, Napoleon built sugar refineries throughout Europe. He even awarded a medal for perfecting the production of white sugar from the white root of the sugar beet, which thrives in cold climates.

Although Napoleon was not worried about it, some Rabbonim were concerned whether the beracha over the new type of sugar was also shehakol, just as the beracha over cane sugar. (The two types of sugar cannot be distinguished one from the other.) The Mishnah Berurah (202:76) rules that one should recite shehakol over beet sugar, although if someone recited borei pri ha’adamah, he should not make another beracha.

Thus, we see that there is a halachic difference between spices that are ground up and cannot be identified, whose beracha remains ha’adamah, and beet sugar, whose beracha is shehakol. We must now analyze the difference between these two foods and figure out where chocolate fits into the picture.

Beating a beet

After the sugar beets ripen, they are harvested, washed thoroughly, and sliced into thin chips. The beet chips are then soaked in hot water for about an hour, which extracts the sugar from them and creates a strong sugar solution. Chalk is added to the sugar solution, which causes the non-sugar parts of the solution to clump together, so that they can be filtered out. The sugar solution is then evaporated to concentrate the sugar. Eventually, the sugar concentration is great enough to form crystals, which are then removed from the solution.

An important fact affecting our halachic discussion is that, in the case of both cane and beet, the sugar is extracted, or removed, from the stem or root, rather than being simply processed.

Now our question is, do we compare chocolate to spices, which maintain their beracha even after they have been ground until they are no longer identifiable, or to sugar, which, we rule, loses its beracha and becomes shehakol?

Rav Shelomoh Zalman compares chocolate to the case of ground spices that maintain their original beracha, although they are no longer recognizable. (Dayan Gavriel Krausz, formerly the Av Beis Din of Manchester, devotes a lengthy essay to advocate this position in his sefer, Mekor Haberacha.) Apparently Rav Shelomoh Zalman felt that chocolate, which is refined from the cocoa bean, should not be compared to sugar, which is extracted from the cane or beet.

(In my opinion, those poskim who contend that the beracha on chocolate is borei pri ha’eitz should agree that the beracha on white chocolate is shehakol, since this product contains no cocoa solids. Cocoa butter should have the halacha of a liquid that is pressed out of a fruit, whose beracha is always shehakol.)

On the other hand, Rav Moshe Feinstein (Shu’t Igros Moshe, 3:31) clearly disagrees, contending that the beracha on all chocolate products is definitely shehakol. In a teshuvah discussing which beracha to recite before eating chocolate-covered raisins, he assumes that the beracha on chocolate is shehakol and does not entertain the possibility that its beracha might be a safek.

In Rav Moshe’s responsum, he addresses the following issue: When eating a food composed of items with different berachos, we must determine which food is the more important, the ikar, and this determines the beracha of the entire food. (I have written an extensive article on the topic of ikar and tafeil in berachos.) Rav Moshe deliberates whether the chocolate or the raisin is more important, in order to determine if the beracha on chocolate-covered raisins is ha’eitz, like the raisin,or shehakol, like the chocolate. Rav Moshe concludes that neither the chocolate nor the raisins can be considered of secondary importance (tafeil) to the other, and therefore, chocolate-covered raisins require two berachos, ha’eitz on the raisins and shehakol on the chocolate.

Rav Moshe then discusses which of the two berachos to recite first. Usually, one should recite the beracha of ha’eitz before reciting shehakol. However, Rav Moshe points out that one must eat the chocolate before reaching the raisin; thus, the beracha on the chocolate will have to be first. Rav Moshe concludes that the best thing to do is to recite ha’eitz on a regular raisin and then shehakol on the chocolate. (When this option does not exist, he rules that one should recite shehakol on the chocolate and then ha’eitz on the raisin. This would require biting off a bit of the chocolate first until he can reach the raisin.)

Clearly, Rav Moshe held that chocolate is definitely shehakol and not even questionably ha’eitz. I conjecture that he held so because chocolate undergoes so many changes and processes in its preparation, one should not consider the finished product a fruit at all. Alternatively, he may have held that since chocolate is liquefied and remains a liquid for most of its processing, it retains its status of being a liquid for hilchos berachos, and thus the correct beracha is shehakol. In any instance, the almost-universal custom is to recite shehakol before eating chocolate. (For other reasons why chocolate should be shehakol, see Shaarei Haberacha pg. 693 and Makor Haberacha pgs. 52-61.)

Notwithstanding that many authorities agree with Rav Moshe that the beracha on chocolate is shehakol, they disagree with his ruling that chocolate-covered raisins and nuts require two different berachos, contending that one should recite only one beracha. Among these poskim, there are two major approaches, those that hold that the beracha is always shehakol, since they consider the chocolate to be the ikar, and those who feel the beracha should be determined by whichever is greater in quantity (Yalkut Yosef, Vol. 3, pg 431; Vezos Haberacha pg. 97). I refer you to your own posek to decide which beracha you should recite before eating this delicacy.

Conclusion

As I mentioned above, the Aztecs considered chocolate a royal food. By studying the halachos of the berachos on this food, we elevate it to being a true royal food – since we are determining which beracha the mamleches cohanim vegoy kodosh, the holy nation that is a kingdom of priests, recites on this food.

Did the Brothers have a Right to Sell Yosef?

Question #1:

How could the righteous brothers of Yosef want to murder him in cold blood?

Question #2:

If I saw someone do something wrong, what should I do about it?

Question #3:

May I inform a parent that I saw his/her child do something wrong, or is this loshon hora?

By properly understanding the story of Yosef’s sale, we will be able to answer these three seemingly unrelated questions.

Who are these brothers?

When studying the events leading to the kidnap and sale of Yosef, we must remember that all twelve of Yaakov’s sons were pure, tzadikim gemurim.[1] In light of their tremendous stature, this already incomprehensible story is that much more difficult to understand.

Had this story taken place in the most dysfunctional family imaginable, we would still be shocked by the unfolding of its events. After all, even if brothers feel that their indulged, nasty kid brother is challenging their father’s love for them, would they consider committing fratricide, or any other murder for that matter?

This would apply even to members of a poorly functioning family. How much more so when we are discussing great talmidei chachamim, who constantly evaluate the halachic ramifications of every action that they perform! How can we possibly understand what transpired? In other words, the Ten Brothers were far greater tzadikim than the Chafetz Chayim or Rav Aryeh Levin, greater talmidei chachamim than the Chazon Ish or Rav Moshe Feinstein (this comparison does not diminish the stature of any of these tzadikim; on the contrary, mentioning them in this context shows how much we venerate them). We cannot imagine any of these people hurting someone’s feelings intentionally, much less causing anyone even the slightest bodily harm. It is difficult to imagine any of these tzadikim swatting a fly! Thus, how can we imagine them swatting their brother, much less, doing anything that might cause long-term damage?

Since we cannot interpret this as an extreme case of sibling rivalry, we are left completely baffled by the actions of the ten saintly and scholarly brothers. How could these ten great tzadikim consider killing their brother? And, then, decide that selling him into slavery was more appropriate? As we see clearly, for the next twenty-two years, they assumed that their decision had been justified, although they acknowledged that they should possibly have given Yosef a “second chance.”

Yosef reports

Yosef was in the habit of reporting to his father dibasam ra’ah (usually interpreted as slander) – actions that he interpreted as infractions. Rashi quotes the Midrash that Yosef informed his father of whatever bad actions he observed in Leah’s six sons. Specifically, Yosef reported:

(1) They were consuming meat without killing the animal properly, a sin forbidden to all descendants of Noach.

(2) They were belittling their brothers Dan, Naftali, Gad and Asher, by calling them slaves.

(3) He suspected them of violating the heinous sin of giluy arayos.

Others explain that Yosef accused the brothers of not caring properly for their father’s flock.[2] Although Rashi makes no mention of this accusation, it is clear from his comments that, in his opinion, had Yosef suspected them of this, he would certainly have noted it to his father.

Is dibasam ra’ah equivalent to slander?

We must be careful not to define dibasam ra’ah as slander, which usually intimates malice and falsehood, and would imply that Yosef’s intentions were to harm his brothers. Without a doubt, the righteous Yosef had no such intent. It is more accurate to translate dibasam ra’ah as evil report. Yosef did share his interpretations of his brothers’ actions with his father, but they were not fabrications, and defaming them was not his goal.

Why is Yosef tattling?

Without question, Yosef’s goal was the betterment of his brothers. He acted completely lishmah, with no evil intent, just as later, in Parshas Vayigash, he holds no grudge against his brothers, despite the indescribable suffering they caused him.

Indeed, Yosef’s motivation was his sincere concern for his brothers. He knew well the halachah that if you see someone sin, you must bring it to the offender’s attention, explaining to him that he will achieve a large share in Olam Haba by doing teshuvah.[3] A person giving tochacha must always have the interests of the sinner completely at heart, and consider how to educate the malefactor in a way that his words will be accepted.

Yosef knew, also, that whoever has the ability to protest sinful activity and fails to do so is liable for his lack of action. However, the Seforno comments that, due to Yosef’s youth, he did not realize what might result from hisreporting to his father about his brothers.

At this point, we can already answer one of the questions I raised above: If I saw someone do something wrong, what should I do about it?

Answer: I am obligated to bring to the person’s attention that it is in his or her best interest to do teshuvah and correct whatever he or she has done wrong. The admonition should be done in a gentle way, expressing concern, so that it can be received positively and thereby accomplish its purpose.

Why through Yaakov?

Without question, Yosef’s goal in sharing his concerns with his father was that his brothers correct their actions. If so, why didn’t Yosef admonish them directly?

Yosef wanted his father to take appropriate action to correct the brothers’ deeds and, thereby, bring them to do teshuvah. The halachic authorities disagree whether Yosef was guilty of speaking loshon hora by using this approach in this instance. The Chafetz Chayim contends that Yosef was guilty of speaking loshon hora, because he should have shared his concerns directly with his brothers, rather than first discussing them with his father.[4]

Maybe his brothers are right?

Yosef should have considered that his attempts at tochacha might be successful. The Chafetz Chayim also sees Yosef as having neglected the mitzvah of being dan lekaf zechus, judging people favorably. Since the brothers were great tzadikim, Yosef should have realized that they had a halachic consideration to permit their actions. Had he judged them favorably, he would have considered one of three possibilities:

(1) That his brothers had done nothing wrong – but he (Yosef) had misinterpreted what he had seen them do.

(2) Alternatively, his brothers might have justified their actions, explaining them in a way that he (Yosef) might have accepted what they did as correct or, at least, permitted.

(3) That although his brothers were not right, they had based themselves on some mistaken rationale. If their rationale was mistaken, Yosef should have entertained the possibility that he might successfully have convinced them that their approach was flawed. He should have discussed the matter with them directly, and either convinced them of their folly or gained an understanding of why they considered their actions as justified.

In any case, Yosef should not have assumed that the brothers sinned intentionally.

The Malbim’s approach

The Malbim disagrees with the Chafetz Chayim’s approach, contending that Yosef felt that his rebuking his brothers would be unheeded under any circumstances and possibly even counterproductive, and only his father’s reprimand would be successful. If you are certain that the sinner will not listen to you, but may listen to someone else, you may share the information with the person you feel will be more successful at giving rebuke. Yosef felt that, although his brothers would not listen to him, their father could successfully convince them of their errors; therefore, he reported the matters to his father.

In the same vein, a student who sees classmates act inappropriately and feels that they will not listen to his/her rebuke may share the information with someone who he/she feels will be more effective in accomplishing the Torah’s goal.

We are now in a position to answer the third question I raised at the beginning:

May I inform a parent that I saw his/her child do something wrong, or is this loshon hora?

If a parent is able to do something to improve a child’s behavior, one may notify the parent of the child’s conduct. Not only is it not loshon hora¸ it is the correct approach to use. However, if the circumstances are such that the parent will be unable to do anything to improve the child’s behavior, or if one can bring about change in the child’s behavior by contacting him directly, one may not inform the parents of the child’s misbehavior. 

Yaakov’s reaction

Yaakov, or more accurately Yisrael, reacted passively to Yosef’s tale bearing on his brothers. He did not rebuke the brothers for their misbehavior, which we will soon discuss; but, he also did not reprimand Yosef for speaking loshon hora, or for neglecting to be dan lekaf zechus. Indeed, he demonstrated his greater love for Yosef than for the others by producing with his own hands a special garment for Yosef. Yaakov, an affluent sheep raiser who preferred to spend his time studying Torah, took time from his own learning to hand-weave Yosef a beautiful coat. Indeed, Yaakov felt a special kinship to Yosef for several reasons, including Yosef’s astute Torah learning. All of this makes us wonder: why did Yaakov not rebuke Yosef for reporting his brothers?

Was Yosef wrong?

Yaakov agreed with Yosef’s assessment that his reporting was not loshon hora, although this does not necessarily mean that he felt the brothers were guilty. I will shortly rally evidence that implies that Yaakov was convinced the brothers were innocent. Nevertheless, Yaakov concurred that Yosef behaved correctly in bringing the matters to his (Yaakov’s) attention, rather than dealing with the brothers himself.

Yaakov agreed that the brothers would not accept Yosef’s admonition, because they did not understand his (Yosef’s) greatness. At the same time, Yaakov realized that Yosef had leadership and scholarship skills superior to those of his brothers. Yaakov therefore gave Yosef the kesones passim, to demonstrate his appointment as leader of the household.[5]

Why did Yaakov not admonish the brothers?

This, of course, leads to a new question. If Yaakov did not rebuke Yosef because he felt that his approach was correct, why do we find nowhere that he rebuked the brothers for their behavior? It appears that Yaakov realized that the brothers had not sinned, and that there was no reason to rebuke them. Shemiras Halashon rallies proof of this assertion, because the Torah teaches that Yaakov had a special love for Yosef only because of Yosef’s scholarship and not because of any concerns about the brothers’ behavior. (See the Sifsei Chachamim and other commentaries on Rashi, who explain why the brothers had done nothing wrong, and what Yosef misinterpreted.) Yaakov understood that the brothers had not sinned, and that Yosef had misinterpreted their actions. Apparently, Yosef was indeed guilty of not having judged them favorably (Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch).

In fact, because of his mistaken accusation of the brothers, Yosef himself was later severely punished: he was sold into slavery, and for wrongly suspecting his brothers of violating arayos, he was suspected by all Egypt of a similar transgression, as a result of Mrs. Potifar’s fraudulent allegation (Shemiras Halashon). Thus, the problem of an innocent man being tried and convicted in the media is not a modern phenomenon – Yosef was punished for a crime he had not done.

Was Yaakov correct?

Was the kesones passim an appropriate gift for Yosef? Was Yaakov wrong in giving Yosef the kesones passim?

Even asking this question places us in an uncomfortable position: it implies that we might lay blame on the educational practices of one of our Avos. Notwithstanding our awesome appreciation of the greatness of Yaakov Avinu, the Gemara criticizes Yaakov’s deed: “A person should never treat one son differently from the others, for, because of two sela’im worth of fancy wool that Yaakov gave Yosef, favoring him over his brothers, the brothers were jealous of him, and the end result was that our forefathers descended to Egypt.”[6]

Yaakov did not act without calculation. Presumably, seeing Yosef’s high standard of learning, his refined personal attributes, and his concern for others’ behavior, Yaakov felt it important to demonstrate that Yosef was the most skilled of a very impressive group of sons. Yet Chazal tell us that this is an error.  One should never demonstrate favoritism among one’s sons, even when there appears to be appropriate reason for doing so.

Were the brothers justified?

At this point, we have presented Yaakov and Yosef’s positions on what happened, but we still do not know why the brothers wanted to kill Yosef.

Remember that the brothers were both righteous and talented talmidei chachamim. Clearly, they must have held that Yosef was a rodef, someone pursuing and attempting to bring bodily harm to another. No other halachic justification would permit their subsequent actions.

Seforno and others note that the brothers interpreted Yosef’s actions as a plot against them, to deprive them of being Yaakov’s descendants. Rav Hirsch demonstrates that the pasuk, vayisnaklu oso lehamiso, means they imagined him as one plotting against them so that he was deserving of death. The brothers assumed that Yosef’s goal was to vilify them in their father’s eyes, so that Yaakov would reject them – just as Yitzchak had rejected Eisav and Avraham had rejected Yishmael and the sons of Keturah (Malbim). After all, Yosef was falsely accusing them of highly serious misbehavior. The brothers interpreted Yaakov’s gift of the kesones passim to Yosef as proof that Yaakov had accepted Yosef’s loshon hora against them (Shemiras Halashon). The brothers needed to act quickly before he destroyed them; they were concerned that Yaakov would accept Yosef’s plot to discredit them and to rule over them. Therefore, they seized and imprisoned Yosef, and then sat down to eat a meal, while they were deciding what to do with him.

Not a free lunch

The brothers are strongly criticized for sitting down to eat a meal. Assuming that they were justified in killing Yosef, they should have spent an entire night debating their judgment. After all, when a beis din decides on capital matters, they postpone their decision until the next day, and spend the entire night debating the halachah in small groups, eating only a little while deliberating the serious matter.[7] Certainly, the brothers’ sitting down to eat immediately after incarcerating Yosef was wrong, and for this sin they were subsequently punished (Shemiras Halashon).

The brothers then realized that selling Yosef as a slave would accomplish what they needed, without bloodshed.

Later, in Egypt, they recognized that they should not have been so hard-hearted as to sell him – perhaps, his experience in the pit had taught him a sufficient lesson, and he was no longer a danger. Not until Yosef presented himself to them in Mitzrayim did they realize that Yosef was correct all along — he would indeed rule over them, and he had not intended to harm them.

Halachic conclusions

1. When you see someone doing something that appears wrong, figure out a positive way to tell the person what he or she can accomplish by doing teshuvah properly.

2. If you are convinced that you are unable to influence the wrongdoer, while someone else may be more successful, you may share the information with the person who might be able to deliver discreet and gentle admonishment.

3. The information should be shared with no one else, unless, otherwise, someone could get hurt.

4. Always figure out how to judge the person favorably. The entire sale of Yosef occurred because neither side judged the other favorably. Also, bear in mind that we are often highly biased in our evaluation, making it difficult for us to judge.

5. Do not demonstrate favoritism among children, even when there appear to be excellent reasons for doing so.

Concluding the story

To quote the Midrash: Prior to Yosef’s revealing himself in Mitzrayim, he asked them, “The brother whom you claim is dead is very much alive; I will call him.” Yosef then called out, “Yosef ben Yaakov, come here. Yosef ben Yaakov, come here.” The brothers searched under the furniture and checked all the corners of the room to see where Yosef was hiding.[8]

By this time, Yosef had already revealed that he knew the intimate details of their household. They knew that Yosef had been taken to Mitzrayim. They now have someone telling them that he knows that Yosef is in the same room, and there is no one in the room save themselves and Yosef. Nonetheless, they cannot accept that the man that they are facing is Yosef!

Contemplate how these giants of spirit were blinded by their own interests! Is it not sobering how convinced a person can be, despite facts to the contrary, that he is entirely right? We can stare truth in the face, and still not realize that it is Yosef standing before us.


[1] Ramban, Iggeres HaKodesh, Chapter 5

[2] Seforno

[3] Rambam, Hilchos Dei’yos 6:7

[4] Shemiras HaLashon Volume 2, Chapter 11 [Parshas Vayeisheiv]

[5] Seforno

[6] Shabbos 10b

[7] Rambam, Hilchos Sanhedrin 12:3

[8] Bereishis Rabbah; Yalkut Shimoni

Do Clothes Make the Man?

Question #1: Robes?

“May I daven wearing a robe?”

Question #2: Tied Up

“Must I wear a necktie when I daven?”

“Is there a halachic basis for wearing a gartel?”

Question #3: Belted?

Answer:

Since the beginning of parshas Tolados discusses how Yitzchak and Rivkah davened for children, it provides an opportunity to discuss the laws of proper attire for prayer.

The Rambam lists five essential requirements for prayer and eight non-essential ones. An essential requirement is one that, if it cannot be fulfilled, one may not daven, even if this means that one will miss davening as a result. A non-essential requirement is that, if it cannot be fulfilled, one may and should daven anyway.

One of the non-essential requirements is to be attired properly when davening (Rambam, Hilchos Tefillah 5:5). A passage of Gemara (Shabbos 10a) that teaches this lesson quotes the verse, Hikon likras Elokecha Yisroel, Prepare to meet your G-d, Yisroel” (Amos 4:12), as a source for this law. As an example, the Gemara mentions that Rabbah, the son of Rav Huna, would put on fine boots before he prayed (Rashi). The Bach (Orach Chayim 91) notes that this implies that Rabbah usually wore simpler footgear. Rabbah knew that were he to meet dignitaries, he would not wear his usual, simpler footwear, and, therefore, wearing it in the presence of the King when he is davening would also be inappropriate. In a similar vein, a different passage of Gemara (Brochos 30b) records that Rav Yehudah would put on nice clothes before he davened. Since the Gemara cites the pasuk in Amos as a source for the requirement of dressing appropriately when one davens, this concept is sometimes referred to with the word of this pasuk, hikon.

Like a servant

The Gemara in Shabbos cited above also mentions another factor to determine how one dresses when davening — one should not overdress for tefillah. For example, Rav would remove his outer garment and fold his hands over his chest before he davened, explaining that one should daven as a servant appears before his master. (Apparently, the overgarment was not a dress jacket as we are familiar with, but something very fancy, perhaps similar to the gold-embroidered glima that the Rishon Letzion wears.)

Other amora’im decided what was considered overdressed, in accordance with the situation of the world at large. Rav Ashi reported that Rav Kahana prepared himself for prayer depending on whether matters in the world were “at peace” or not: “When there were difficulties in the world, he would throw off his outer garment and clasp his hands over his heart as a servant stands to beg from his master. When there was peace in the world, he would dress in fine clothes and pray.”

The Bach (Orach Chayim 91) explains that, although we see that some of the amora’im did not wear their fanciest garments when they davened, they certainly dressed with appropriate clothing.

Weekdays versus Shabbos

The Aruch Hashulchan (Orach Chayim 91:2) notes that, in his day, there were those who did not wear the fancy outer garment for davening on weekdays, since the world was in a time of difficulty, but that they did wear it on Shabbos and Yom Tov. On these holy days, one should not even allude to difficulties, since doing so spoils the atmosphere and sanctity of the day.

Special clothes

At this point, we could ask a question: Since we realize that one should dress for davening as if he is standing before the King, should one not purchase special garments to be worn only when he davens? Someone honored with an audience before a human king would certainly acquire special garments for the occasion!

The point is well taken, and, indeed, the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 98:4) mentions a practice of special garments that are worn only for tefillah. It is worthwhile to quote him verbatim: “It is appropriate to have nice-looking garments designated for prayer, similar to the kohanim’s special garments. However, not every man can afford this expense.” Thus, his conclusion is that it is a nice idea to have special garments for davening, but it is not always possible for everyone.

All prayers?

Do the rules of hikon apply to all of our prayers?

One would think that, since in all our prayers and blessings we are talking directly to Hashem, we should fulfill the mitzvah of hikon whenever we recite any prayers, blessings or, perhaps, even while reciting Tehillim. However, the authorities prove from the Gemara that this is not halachically required.

The Mishnah (Shabbos 9b) states that if someone began eating a meal without having yet davened mincha, he is not required to interrupt his meal to daven (assuming that there will be sufficient time to daven afterwards). The Gemara asks, “At what point is it considered that he began his meal such that he is not required to interrupt it?” The Gemara answers that, once he unfastened his belt in order to be able to eat comfortably, it is considered that he began the meal, and he may delay davening until he completes eating. In this discussion, the Gemara mentions that hikon requires that one daven with a fastened belt. Yet, since he opens his belt in order to eat comfortably, we see that the brochos before eating were recited with an open belt, notwithstanding that this is considered inappropriate attire for davening. Thus, a distinction is made between davening, which requires a higher level of attire, and brochos, which do not (Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim Chapter 91). When davening shemoneh esrei one must stand as if one is in the presence of the King (Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chayim 91:1; Mishnah Berurah 74:24). Although we are always in His presence, we are not required to dress in such a proper way when reciting other prayers and blessings.

Belts

Based on this discussion, the early authorities discuss whether one is required to wear a belt and a hat while davening. The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 91:1) explains that one should wear a nicer belt, which he calls an eizor, when davening. This is the source for those who put on a gartel, a special belt, prior to davening. The Magen Avraham qualifies this ruling of the Shulchan Aruch, contending that one who does not usually wear a belt is not required to put one on in order to daven. Someone who usually wears a belt as part of his clothing is required to have his belt on and closed when he davens. The Mishnah Berurah (91:4) cites the approach of the Magen Avraham as the normative halacha, but he adds that it is, nevertheless, considered exemplary conduct to put on a belt when davening, even if someone does not usually wear one.

Head covering

Is one required to wear a hat when davening?

The Rambam (Hilchos Tefillah 5:5), followed by the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 91:5), mention that Torah scholars and their disciples should have a full head covering when they daven. To quote the Rambam: “All chachamim and their disciples are careful not to pray without their head atufim,” a word meaning that their heads are covered in a respectful way. The Aruch Hashulchan (Orach Chayim 91:6) writes that, in his country, one may not daven without a hat, since no one walked in the street without one. It would seem that he would agree that in a place where it is common for people to walk in the street without a hat that one may daven wearing only a yarmulke or similar head covering.

Review

Thus, we have a general direction for appropriate davening attire. One should dress as one would be attired when meeting someone prominent. If times are peaceful, one should even consider “dressing up” for the davening; but when times aredifficult, one should dress appropriately, but not fancily. At this point, let us examine some specific halachic questions about proper attire.

Barefoot

Based on halachic sources, the rishonim discuss whether one may daven barefoot. Their conclusion is that one may not pray barefoot, except on Tisha B’Av and Yom Kippur (Tosafos, Shabbos op. cit.). The Bach adds that people should not daven wearing footwear that leaves their ankles exposed. One could argue that this depends on what is considered appropriate footwear in the place where you are living. This is based on a statement of the Aruch Hashulchan that if people do not wear respectable footgear, or walk barefoot in the place where you are, you are not required to don nice footgear in order to daven, but one should still not daven barefoot, even when that is common in your location (Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chayim 91:5).

Work Clothes

May one daven midday and midweek in the rough clothes required for the work that one does to earn a living?

Rav Shlomoh Zalman Auerbach discusses a person who works wearing shorts or other garments that one would not wear when visiting a respected individual. He rules that one should not daven this way (Halichos Shlomoh, Tefillah 2:15).

One can actually find a Talmudic source for this ruling. In a different context, the Gemara (Shabbos 114a) states that one should not serve one’s master his meal while wearing the same clothes used while cooking his meals. The clothes used to cook are presumably food-stained and sweaty; a respected master expects to be served by a waiter or servant wearing clean and smart-looking clothes.

Pajamas and robes

May one daven wearing pajamas, bathrobes or similar attire?

Since it is inappropriate to appear in front of respected people wearing pajamas, one should not daven that way either. I note that in one contemporary source, I saw that he ruled that someone who is ill may daven wearing pajamas (Tefillah Kehilchasah Chapter 7, footnote 78). Personally, I would suggest putting on nicer clothing on top of the pajamas in order to daven, if not too ill or weak to do so.

As far as davening while wearing a robe, it would appear that this depends on the type of robe in question. If it is a bathrobe that you would only wear in the house, you should not daven attired this way (Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chayim 91:6). However, I see no problem davening while wearing a smoking jacket or a fancy robe.

Short sleeves

Is a man permitted to daven wearing a short-sleeved shirt and no jacket over it?

I was once asked this question, when I was on a visit to the Miami area. I answered that this depends on whether an attorney would enter a courtroom dressed this way. At the time, I was told that in Dade County (where Miami is located), it is acceptable for an attorney to represent a client in court without wearing a jacket.

Subsequently, I found that this question is disputed by some late authorities. Rav Ovadyah Hadaya, in his Shu”t Yaskil Avdi, ruled that one may not daven wearing short sleeves, since this is not considered a respectable way to dress when meeting dignitaries. However, Rav Ovadya Yosef disagreed, ruling that one may daven this way (Shu”t Yechaveh Daas 4:8).

Winter clothes

May one daven wearing winter clothes, which you would not usually wear in the presence of a respected person?

One may wear these garments when it is cold, since one would greet a respected person outdoors dressed this way (see Halichos Shlomoh, Tefillah 2:18).

Gloves

May one daven wearing gloves?

The Bach writes that one should not daven while wearing gloves.  However, Rav Shlomoh Zalman Auerbach explained that the Bach was referring to work gloves, since one would not greet a respected person without taking them off. If it is cold where you are, you may daven wearing winter gloves, since you would also greet a respected person this way (see Mishnah Berurah 91:12 and Halichos Shlomoh, Tefillah 2:18, ftn 29).

Neckties

Is a man required to wear a necktie when he davens?

According to what we have seen, the rule is that the attire for davening should be the way people dress in your location when visiting a respected individual. If, in your place, this would not be done without wearing a necktie, one should wear one when davening. If this is not expected where you are, it is not required.

Dirty clothes

There are also early sources that imply that one’s clothes must be reasonably clean when one davens (Darchei Moshe, Orach Chayim 53:10; Rema, Orach Chayim 53:25). This is certainly a problem if the clothes have an objectionable odor.

One of the examples mentioned by the early halachic authorities is an interesting situation. In a certain town, the chazzan, who apparently led services during the week as well as on Shabbos, also worked as the town shocheit, a very common practice in earlier times. (There is even a term used for this position, a shovshatz, which stands for shocheit ubodeik, sheliach tzibur, referring to all the roles in which this individual served the community.)

In this particular town, the shocheit apparently had the habit of showing up to mincha and maariv wearing the same clothes he had worn to shecht earlier that day. The people complained both about the physical appearance of his clothing and the odor that emanated from them. The Kolbo, a rishon, ruled that the shovshatz should be advised to change his clothes to cleaner ones before he arrives in shul to lead the services. If, after being warned to do so, he ignores the admonition, this provides grounds for dismissal (quoted in Darchei Moshe, Orach Chayim 53:10).

Wearing clothes respectfully

Not only should one wear respectable clothes when davening, but one should be careful to wear them in the proper way. For example, Rav Shlomoh Zalman Auerbach rules that someone should not daven with a jacket draped over his shoulders, since one does not speak to prominent people attired in that fashion (Halichos Shlomoh, Tefillah 2:15).

Hands over heart

Proper davening requires more than just proper clothing. When the Rambam (Hilchos Tefillah 5:4) discusses these laws, he adds the following: “He should place his hands folded right over left on top of his heart and stand like a servant in front of his master in awe, fear and trepidation. He certainly should not place his hands on his hips because this appears haughty.” While davening, one should cast his eyes downward and think of the Might of Hashem and the lowliness of man. One should think: “How can I, poor and despised, come to approach the King of Kings?” (Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chayim 95:5).

Right over left

The Shulchan Aruch quotes the Rambam’s statement that the right hand should be bent over the left hand and both on his heart. Although the Rambam mentions placing one’s right hand over one’s left, there does not appear to be a Talmudic source for this. The Darchei Moshe (Orach Chayim 95) explains that there is a kabbalistic reason for this practice, in that it alludes to the midas harachamim, symbolized by the right hand, being stronger than the midas hadin, symbolized by the left. Some authorities add that one should have one’s right thumb inside his left hand or a similar position whereby the fingers are coiled inside one another. Later authorities note that this particular position should be assumed only when it is a time of difficulty (Graz, Orach Chayim 91:6; Aruch Hashulchan, Orach Chayim 91:7).

The Magen Avraham (95:2) comments that the hands over the heart and related positioning depend on how servants stand to supplicate in a particular place. Therefore, the Mishnah Berurah concludes that one should stand in the position that, in your location, a servant would assume when beseeching his master.

Versus tefillah betzibur

What is the halacha if changing into appropriate clothes for tefillah will cause him to miss davening together with the tzibur? Which takes priority, the mitzvah of hikon or tefillah betzibur?

If he can find a later minyan with which to daven, he should wait until he has a chance to change. However, if he will not be able to daven with a later minyan, the mitzvah of hikon does not override the mitzvah of davening with a minyan (Halichos Shlomoh, Tefillah 2:15).

Conclusion

The power of tefillah is very great. Man was created by Hashem as the only creation that has free choice. Therefore, our serving Hashem and our davening is unique in the entire spectrum of creation. Remember that we are actually speaking to Hashem, and that we are trying to build a relationship with Him. Through tefillah, one can save lives, bring people closer to Hashem, and overturn harsh decrees. We are required to believe in this power. One should not think, “Who am I to daven to Hashem?” Rather, we must reinforce the concept that Hashem wants our tefillos, and He listens to them!

The Kuzari notes that every day should have three, very high points — the three times that we daven. We should gain our strength and inspiration for the rest of the day from these three prayers. When we recognize that tefillah is so valuable, we must certainly realize that it must be treated as a special time, and our attire when we daven should reflect this. Let us hope that Hashem will accept our tefillos together with those of Klal Yisroel!

When does Mincha Start?

Question #1: Why Mincha?

If the word mincha means a “gift” or sometimes, more particularly, “an offering made from flour,” why does this word refer exclusively to our afternoon prayer, rather than to any of our other prayers?”

Question #2: When Mincha?

“When is the optimal time to daven mincha?”

Question #3: What Mincha?

“What do the words mincha ketanah and mincha gedolah mean?”

Introduction

The Gemara in Brachos that I will cite shortly quotes a posuk from this week’s parsha as the source for our daily mincha prayer, providing an opportunity to discuss some of the laws concerning when one may begin davening mincha.

Why mincha?

But first, why do we call the prayer mincha? As our questioner noted, the word mincha means a gift, and the Torah uses the term mincha to refer to a grain offering, which could be offered at any time of the day. Some mincha offerings were voluntary, whereas others were required. Some were private offerings, such as the forty loaves that accompanied the korban todah, the thanksgiving offering. Others were korbanos tzibur, public offerings, such as the lechem hapanim that graced the shulchan in the Beis Hamikdash, the korban omer offered on the second day of Pesach,and the special shtei halechem that were offered on Shavuos.

Assuming that our daily afternoon prayer corresponds to the afternoon korban offered in the Beis Hamikdash (as we will soon discuss), that offering is called tamid shel bein ha’arbayim, the offering brought every afternoon. The term bein ha’arbayim means the afternoon, since it is after the sun begins its daily descent and beforesundown. The korban tamid was offered twice a day, in the morning, shacharis, and in the afternoon, bein ha’arbayim. Thus, since our morning prayer is called shacharis, shouldn’t we call the afternoon one bein ha’arbayim? And, even assuming that the prayer is called mincha because the tamid shel bein ha’arbayim was accompanied by a mincha offering, the morning tamid, also, was accompanied by a mincha offering, yet its corresponding prayer is called shacharis.

As you would imagine, I am not the first one to pose this question; about 800 years ago, it was raised by Tosafos (Pesachim 107a, s.v. Samuch), who provides two answers. Tosafos suggests that since korbanos mincha accompanied the two daily korbanos tamid, and the morning one is called shacharis, the afternoon korban was called mincha. Perhaps calling the afternoon prayer bein ha’arbayim was considered too unwieldy.

Tosafos presents a second approach, which is based on a Talmudic passage that refers to the prayer of Eliyahu on Mount Carmel as mincha. To quote the Gemara, “A person should always be careful concerning the mincha prayer, since Eliyahu was answered only with the mincha prayer” (Brachos 6b). Tosafos notes that Eliyahu prayed while the afternoon korban mincha was offered (see Melachim I 18:36), and therefore, the association of a successful prayer with the korban mincha was established– and the name stuck! Brachos

A different rishon, the Avudraham, suggests a third approach, which is based on the fact that Adam Harishon sinned in the afternoon – the same time of the day when we would be praying the mincha service. The Torah describes that Adam sinned leruach hayom, which Targum Onkelos calls manach yoma, the same word as mincha!

Thus, whereas according to both of Tosafos’ approaches the term mincha used for the afternoon prayer is borrowed from a different context, in Avudraham’s understanding, the word mincha does mean the afternoon.

Having answered the first of our opening questions, let us now begin an introduction that is needed to explain and answer the second question. “When is the optimal time to daven Mincha?”

Prayer origin

The Gemara (Brachos 26b) reports a dispute between amora’im regarding the origin of our three daily tefillos. Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi ruled that tefillos were established to commemorate the daily korbanos offered in the Beis Hamikdash, whereas Rabbi Yosi ben Rabbi Chanina contended that they were established by the Avos. Specifically, Avraham Avinu established shacharis, Yitzchok Avinu created mincha, and Yaakov Avinu instituted maariv, each of which the Gemara derives from pesukim.

The Gemara then demonstrates that both Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi’s approach and that of Rabbi Yosi ben Rabbi Chanina date back to the time of the tanna’im, and it concludes that both opinions are correct – the tefillos were established by our forefathers and, at the same time, our observance also includes a commemoration of the daily korbanos. This is evidenced by the halachic requirement to recite these tefillos at the times appropriate for offering their corresponding korbanos. In other words, the times governing when each tefillah should be recited match the time that the corresponding korbanos were offered in the Beis Hamikdash, and, before it was built, in the Mishkan.

Prayer deadline

The Mishnah (Brachos 26a) discusses the latest time that one may daven the various prayers, citing a dispute regarding the latest time for shacharis, the tanna kamma holding at midday and Rabbi Yehudah holding at one third of the day, two hours before midday. (This is the conclusion of the Gemara on 27a; the Gemara also concludes there that we paskin like Rabbi Yehudah.) Similarly, the Mishnah (Brachos 26a) cites a dispute as to the latest time that one can daven mincha.

However, the Mishnah does not mention when one may begin davening mincha. Instead, a beraisa quoted by the Gemara (26b) shares the following, seemingly incomplete, information: “When is mincha gedolah? After six and a half hours. And when is mincha ketanah? After nine and a half hours.” The Gemara does not explain what halachic significance these two terms, mincha gedolah and mincha ketanah, have. From the context, it appears that each of these two terms refers to a time in the day, but from what point are we measuring 6½ hours and 9½ hours, and how long is the hour we are using in our measure? And, what halachic ramifications do these two times have?

Different hours!

Whereas our contemporary clock uses hours that are all exactly sixty minutes long, and each minute is also of the same, exact duration, this method of calculating time, although extremely accurate from one perspective, does not take into consideration the major event that defines our day – the path of the sun around the earth, or the earth around the sun.

As we all well know, the length of time of daylight varies greatly throughout the year, and sunrise and sunset always vary slightly from one day to the next. Chazal use a calculation of time that involves dividing the daylight hours into 12 equal units. These hours, which vary in length from day to day, are called sha’os zemaniyos (singular, sha’ah zemanis). As we will soon mention, there are different opinions whether we calculate this from halachic dawn, called alos hashachar, until nightfall (tzeis hakochavim, when the stars are visible) or from sunrise to sunset. For our purposes, let us assume that we consider sunrise to be the beginning, or “zero-hour” of our day, and sunset as the end of the twelfth hour. We now divide our day into twelve equal hours, but the length of each hour will vary throughout the year.

When is noon?

Calculating this way, the end of the sixth hour is always exactly midday, the point in the day when the sun is at its highest point and closest to being directly overhead. (In reality, the sun is never directly overhead, unless one is located somewhere near the equator, between the two tropics. North of the tropics, the sun is always in the southern half of the sky, rather than directly overhead.) This time of the day is sometimes called “high noon,” which is the time of the day when the sun creates no shadow, and halacha calls it chatzos.

We should be careful not to confuse this with 12:00 noon on our clock. Twelve o’clock is rarely the actual time of chatzos; this is primarily because the creation of time zones caused the time on our clocks to diverge from the sun’s time. Standardized time zones were not formulated until the invention and common use of the railroad. Until that time, each city created its own time, based on sunrise and sunset in that city, and noon and high noon were identical. However, this system proved difficult to use when trains arrived on a schedule from a different city, where sunrise was earlier or later on a given day. In order that people could anticipate when the trains would arrive in their town, they created a system whereby people in different places would keep the same clock.

Mincha gedolah

Returning to the passage of Gemara in Brachos, the question is why the beraisa is telling us about two points of the day, called mincha ketanah and mincha gedolah.

The Rambam appears to have understood the beraisa to be explaining when is the earliest time to daven mincha, but provides two times. One, mincha gedolah, is the earliest possible time, whereas the other is the preferred time. In other words, the earliest time to daven mincha is at 6½ hours, although it is preferred for someone to wait until 9½ hours to daven mincha. This is because it is ideal to daven mincha later in the day and closer to sunset.

Other rishonim appear to have understood this passage somewhat differently from the Rambam (see Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 233, citing Rosh and Tur), although there is not a significant difference in halacha between the two approaches. The Aruch Hashulchan explains that, even according to the Rambam, waiting until mincha ketanah to daven is not required, but only preferred. If there is a reason to daven at mincha gedolah, such as if one would like to begin a seudah, one may. Certainly, the exigencies of travel or employment allow one to daven at mincha gedolah, even according to the Rambam.

Clocking minutes?

When, on my clock, have we reached mincha gedolah? Assuming that I know when chatzos is, do I add thirty minutes to determine when is mincha gedolah? Or must I know exactly how long each sha’ah zemanis is today and add half of that to chatzos, which will make mincha gedolah either somewhat earlier or somewhat later than it is according to the 30-minute method, depending on the part of the year?

The Rema (Orach Chayim 233:1) rules that we use the calculation of sha’os zemaniyos. Notwithstanding that the Mishnah Berurah (233:4) accepts this conclusion, in his own notes on his rulings (Shaar Hatziyun), he queries that perhaps this should be determined by thirty clock minutes. Why?

As we mentioned above, the time for each prayer is based on a corresponding korban in the Beis Hamikdash. In the case of tefillas mincha, the corresponding korban could have been offered immediately after chatzos (see Mishnah Pesachim 61a). We wait an additional half hour to make sure that no one errs and offers it too early. Since the extra half hour is to make sure that a person does not miscalculate, perhaps its time should be thirty minutes, not dependent on whether the day is longer or shorter (see Rashi, Pesachim 93b). Should the hedge factor to avoid error vary according to season?

Therefore, the Mishnah Berurah implies he is uncertain whether this half hour should be zemanis or not. Because of this, the minhag in Yerushalayim, for example, is to bestringent in both directions. In winter months, when a sha’ah zemanis is less than an hour, the practice is not to daven mincha until thirty minutes after chatzos. In the summer months, when a sha’ah zemanis is greater than an hour, mincha gedolah is calculated on the basis of 6½ sha’os zemaniyos.

Davened earlier

What is the halacha if someone davened mincha between halachic midday and mincha gedolah, which is too early to daven? Must he daven again?

Based on the words of the Rambam and the Shulchan Aruch, the Magen Avraham concludes that he has not fulfilled the mitzvah and is required to daven again.

Rashi implies that he agrees with this position, when, in his comments explaining this beraisa in Brachos 26b, he writes: “If one would like to offer the afternoon tamid earlier than mincha gedolah, he may not, since the Torah says bein ha’arbayim, which means when there begin to be evening shadows, because the sun is now inclining to the western part of the sky. This is after 6½, since between 5½ and 6½, the sun is directly overhead.”

This leads to the following question: The Mishnah (Pesachim 61a) states that the korban Pesach cannot be offered before noon, but implies that, if offered immediately after halachic noon, it is kosher. Yet, the time for both the daily afternoon tamid and the korban Pesach is expressed in the Torah by the same term, bein ha’arbayim. Thus, if the korban Pesach is kosher when offered at halachic midday, a korban tamid offered at midday should also be kosher. Therefore, the daily mincha prayer, which corresponds to the afternoon tamid, should be “kosher” when prayed at midday – in other words, it should fulfill the mitzvah, at least bedei’evid (Pri Megadim).

Although there are approaches to resolve this question, the Pri Chodosh and other acharonim dispute the conclusion of the Magen Avraham, concluding that someone who davened mincha after chatzos but before mincha gedolah fulfilled the requirement and does not daven mincha again (Pri Megadim, Mishbetzos Zahav 232:1 and 233; Aruch Hachulchan; Mishnah Berurah 233:2, quoting Beis Yaakov and Magen Giborim).

Tashlumim

There is a halachic rule that someone who missed one of the daily prayers should make it up during the next tefillah slot by reciting a second shemoneh esrei, immediately after davening the correct, appropriate prayer. For example, if someone missed mincha, then, immediately after reciting shemoneh esrei of maariv, he should recite a second shemoneh esrei, to make up the missed mincha. This replacement prayer is called tefillas tashlumim.

The following question is germane to someone who davened mincha too early; that is, he davened after chatzos and before mincha gedolah, in which case, according to the Magen Avraham, he is required to daven mincha again. What if the person did not daven the mincha again that day, does the Magen Avraham require him to daven a tefillas tashlumim for the missed mincha? Some contend that, in this situation, the Magen Avraham does not require a tefillas tashlumim. Their reason is that tefillas tashlumim does not replace the lost mitzvah of tefillah bizmanah, the prayer recited in its correct time, since that cannot be replaced – rather, a tefillas tashlumim replaces only a missing tefillah. But, in our situation, this individual davened – although he recited his prayer before mincha gedolah. Although he may have missed mincha bizmanah, nothing is gained from having him daven a make-up because he has already davened (Tenuvas Sadeh).

Mincha ketanah

I mentioned earlier the Rambam’s opinion that the optimal time to daven mincha is after mincha ketanah, which the beraisa teaches is 9½ hours of the day. How do we calculate “9½ hours of the day”?

As discussed earlier, there are various opinions how to calculate this, some measuring the day from alos hashachar until tzeis hakochavim and others from sunrise to sunset. The most accepted approach is to calculate the 9½ hours as measured from sunrise to sunset. In fractions, this is 19/24 into the sunshine part of the day.

Conclusion

Often, we are in a rush – there is so much to do, I need to get to work – and we know, all too well, the yetzeir hora’s methods of encouraging us to rushthrough davening. We all realize that davening properly requires reading slowly and carefully, and that the power of tefillah is very great. Through tefillah one can save lives, bring people closer to Hashem, and overturn harsh decrees. We have to believe in this power. One should not think, “Who am I to daven to Hashem?” Rather, we must continually drive home the concept that Hashem wants our tefillos, and He listens to them! Man was created by Hashem as the only creation that has free choice. Therefore, our serving Hashem and our davening is unique in the entire spectrum of creation.

Understanding how much concern Chazal placed in the relatively minor aspects of davening should make us even more aware of the fact that davening is our attempt at building a relationship with Hashem. As the Kuzari notes, every day should have three high points – the three times that we daven. Certainly, one should do whatever one can to make sure to pay attention to the meaning of the words of one’s Tefillah. We should gain our strength and inspiration for the rest of the day from these three prayers. Let us hope that Hashem will accept our tefillos, together with those of Klal Yisrael!

The Seudah of a Bris

Question #1: Fleishig bris

“Must a bris meal be fleishig? I am between jobs, and even a bagel and tuna salad bris is really, at the moment, beyond my means.”

Question #2: How many people?

How many attendees does a bris seudah require?

Question #3: Day later?

Can you make the meal for a bris a day later?

Answer:

It is a well-established practice that when someone celebrates a bris milah, they make a seudah in honor of the occasion. The common, but not universal, custom in Eretz Yisroel is that the meal served in honor of a bris is fleishig, whereas, in the United States, the meal served is often milchig. This article will explore the origins of the practice of having a seudah in honor of the bris, discuss the parameters of chiyuv involved, and, at the same time, discover some interesting customs, cases and piskei halacha that we find in the halachic literature. As always, this column is to provide general background, but not meant to provide halachic ruling, which is the role of each individual’s rav or posek.

The first question is whether the bris meal is required min haTorah, miderabbanan or whether it is simply a common practice. This author found different midrashim on the subject with slightly variant implications regarding this issue.

“Someone who brought his son to a bris milah is required to make a celebration and a party for the occasion” (Pirkei Derabbi Eliezer, Chapter 29; Midrash Tehillim to Chapter 112). The basis for this celebration is that Avraham made a large party beyom higameil es Yitzchak,“on the day of the higameil of Yitzchok,” assuming that the word higameil refers to the day of his bris. Tosafos (Shabbos 130a s.v. Sas) quotes a midrash that this is derived by taking the four letters of the word הגמל and dividing them into הג, which is the gematriya of eight, and מל, meaning that Avraham made his big celebration on the eighth day after Yitzchak’s birth, the day of his milah.

Another midrash adds that the reward for a father making a “big mishteh” (party) on the day of his son’s bris is that he will have a child who will be a gibbor aretz, which could be translated as a “hero of the earth.” The examples in the midrash are “like Yitzchak, whose prayer allowed a barren woman to give birth” or “like Yaakov, who defeated an angel” (Midrash Tehillim to Chapter 112).

On the other hand, a different midrash describes the celebration of the bris as something highly praiseworthy, referring to it as something that people do out of joy – something performed notwithstanding that there is requirement to do so (Midrash Tanchuma, parshas Tetzaveh #1). This midrash implies that, unlike the Pirkei derabbi Eliezer quoted above, making a bris seudah is a commendable act, but not required. This last midrash then emphasizes, “not only do they make a massive celebration, but people even borrow money and collateralize themselves in order to make this celebration.” A possible way to explain what seems to be a dispute between midrashim is that the Torah never required making a huge celebration in honor of bris milah, but Chazal later made it into a chiyuv.

Other Biblical sources

Another posuk frequently quoted as a source for a celebration on the day of the bris is in Tehillim (119:162), sas anochi al imrasecha kemotzei shalal rav, “I rejoice about your utterances as he who finds a huge treasure.” The word imrasecha is interpreted to mean the mitzvah of bris milah, thus rendering the posuk: I rejoice when I have the opportunity of bris milah.

In this context, the Maharshal states that the seudah, itself, is a simchas mitzvah, on the same level as a wedding or sheva brachos, and it is therefore a big mitzvah to participate in it (Yam shel Shlomoh, Bava Kama 7:37).

Upon the eighth

Another midrash mentions a different posuk in Tehillim as the source for celebrating a bris: the opening words of the 12th Chapter, La’me’natzei’ach al hasheminis, usually translated as, “For the musician, upon the eight-stringed instrument.” This midrash explains that the posuk refers not to an instrument of eight strings, but to the celebration of bris milah on the eighth day after birth (Yalkut Shim’oni, Beshalach #250 and Va’eschanan #844; Midrash Tehillim 6:1, and others).

A difference that might potentially result between these various midrashic sources is whether we should make a festive meal when the bris needed to be delayed, for example, when the baby was not fully healthy on the eighth day. Another possibility is when the baby is born on Friday evening after sunset and before nightfall, in which case the bris cannot be made the next Friday, because it might be the seventh day, nor on Shabbos, since it might be the ninth day from the birth, and only a bris on the eighth day supersedes Shabbos. In these instances, is there still a mitzvah to have a bris seudah? If the source for this celebration is the posuk sas anochi al imrasecha, there should be no difference whether the bris falls on the eighth day or is postponed. On the other hand, if the source is from the words of the 12th chapter of Tehillim that refer to the eighth, or from the words הגמל meaning the eighth day, it is possible that the mitzvah of celebrating the bris with a festive mealis only when the bris falls on the eighth day.

Indeed, we find some halachic authorities who make such a distinction, but in a different context. Concerning a bris that takes place during the Nine Days, where eating fleishig is permitted, at least in certain situations (see Maharil, laws of Tisha Be’Av; Rema, Orach Chayim 551:10; Elya Rabbah 249:2; cf. Taz, Orach Chayim 551:12), there are authorities who contend that permission to eat meat during the nine days is limited to a bris on the eighth day after birth, but not when the bris is delayed (see Shaarei Teshuvah 551:33, quoting Shu”t Or Olam #9), notwithstanding that this is when it is the correct time to perform the bris.

Shulchan Aruch

Thus far, we have noted several midrashim as sources for the practice of a festive celebration in honor of a bris milah, and we noted a discrepancy whether this meal is required or only customary. The wording of the Shulchan Aruch is “nohagim,” which implies that the seudah is required because of Jewish practice (Yoreh Deah 265:12).

We should note that a minority opinion contends that a seudas bris is required min haTorah (Or Ne’elam, based on Rashi, Niddah 31b, quoted by Shaarei Teshuvah, 551:33).

Invite your enemies!

One early source emphasizes that the person making a bris should make peace with his enemies and invite them to the seudah (Orchos Chayim). The poor should also be invited, so that they can participate in a meal that is beyond their means. The custom of bringing home treats from the bris is also mentioned in early sources (Yalkut Mei’am Lo’eiz, parshas Lech Lecha).

Bris on the eighth

We all realize that a bris should take place on the eighth day after birth, unless it cannot, such as when the baby is not fully healthy.

Rescheduling bris to a legal holiday

While researching this article, I found an interesting responsum from the Divrei Malkiel, one of the leading Litvishe poskim of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The question was sent to him from the rav of Bucharest, Rumania, deploring the progressive attitudes towards shemiras mitzvos that existed among many wealthier members of his community. One issue was that they would postpone a bris milah from the eighth day to a secular legal holiday, to make it easier for people to attend. The Divrei Malkiel found this practice extremely abhorrent – the seudas bris is to celebrate that a mitzvah involving mesiras nefesh was observed to its fullest. By postponing the bris to accommodate the seudah, the baalei simcha are inverting the importance — making, quite literally, the tafeil into the ikar and the ikar into the tafeil. The Divrei Malkiel suggests that, under these circumstances, there would be no mitzvah accomplished with the seudas bris. Since the entire bris was delayed against halacha, it now becomes the celebration of an aveirah – the non-fulfillment of a bris on the eighth day, rather than the celebration of a mitzvah!

The Divrei Malkiel notes that this not only confuses the ikar (performing the bris at the first opportunity, and the mitzvah of performing it on the eighth day) with the tafeil (the seudah celebration), but that, if indeed the bris was delayed because of convenience, there is no mitzvah of having a celebratory meal. His rationale is simple: The purpose of the celebratory meal is to demonstrate our scrupulous observance of this mitzvah that involves sacrifice. But, in this instance, it is a declaration that the father did not want to perform the mitzvah properly. Therefore, any celebration becomes a farce and is not a simchas mitzvah(Shu”t Divrei Malkiel 4:86)!

The exact question asked of the Divrei Malkiel was asked many hundreds of years ago of the Tashbeitz, who ruled the same way. The case in this instance was that the eighth day after the birth fell on Sunday, the tenth of Av – in other words, Tisha Be’Av nidche, the day that the ninth of Av isobserved in practice. The family wanted to push off the bris to Monday in order to have it on a day when there would be a seudah. Similar to the Divrei Malkiel, the Tashbeitz writes that pushing off the bris to accommodate amore convenient seudah confuses the ikar with the tafeil and is sinful, for it violates performing the bris on the eighth day. He concludes, similarly to the Divrei Malkiel, that in this situation there is no mitzvah to have a seudah (Shu”t Tashbeitz 3:8).

Milchig or fleishig?

At this point, we are ready to discuss the first of our opening questions: “Must a bris be fleishig? I am between jobs, and even a bagel and tuna salad bris is really, at the moment, beyond my means.”

The early authorities discuss whether it is preferred to have a fleishig meal at a bris. The Shelah Hakadosh quotes a dispute that he had with his rebbe, the Maharash, who contended that a bris should be a fleishig meal, whereas the Shlah himself, at least prior to his rebbe voicing a disputing opinion, held that a milchig meal is fine (Mesechta Shabbos, Ner Mitzvah #7, quoted by Elya Zuta 249:2). The opinion of the Maharash is viewed as the primary halachic opinion by the Machatzis Hashekel (Orach Chayim 249:6). On the other hand, the Chasam Sofer notes that the accepted practice in his day was to serve a dairy meal (Shu”t Chasam Sofer Orach Chayim #69), and this practice is similarly quoted approvingly by others (Shaarei Teshuvah 551:33, quoting Shu”t Or Olam #9).

In this context, the Chochmas Odom states that having a bris seudah is a custom to demonstrate the simcha that Jews feel when we observe bris milah. To quote him, “Someone who could make a seudah, and pinches pennies to serve only coffee, schnapps and sweets, is not doing the right thing (149:24). In other words, if someone cannot afford an expensive meal, it is perfectly acceptable that he serve a snack, rather than a full meal. But someone who can afford to serve a nice meal should make a proper celebration.

At the same time, we must be careful that the expenses associated with a bris not become so lavish that it embarrasses someone who is unable to make such a nice bris. In many communities, over the ages, when this became a problem, takanos were established, limiting how many people could be invited to a bris seudah and what was served.

Minyan?

At this point, let us examine the second of our opening questions: “How many attendees does a bris seudah require?”

The Rema (Yoreh Deah 265:12) writes that the minhag is to have a minyan at a seudas bris. This is the earliest authority I know of who discusses this, and he does not cite either a source or a reason. Later authorities endeavor to understand what the source is for this Rema. Several options are mentioned, including the statement of the Gemara (Kesubos 8a) that the brocha of shehasimcha bi’me’ono, “that joy is in His abode”would be recited at a bris – just as we do at a wedding or sheva brachos – except for tzara leyanuka, the discomfort caused to the baby by the bris. This brocha, shehasimcha bi’me’ono, is never recited without a minyan. (However, this source does not demonstrate a requirement to have a minyan; rather, that even if a minyan is present, not to recite shehasimcha bi’me’ono.)

It is possible that the reason the bris seudah should have a minyan is to spread the happy tidings that the mitzvah was performed, pirsumei mitzvah, and pirsum usually requires at least a minyan. (These and other approaches are discussed in Sefer Habris by the late Rav Moshe Bunim Pirutinsky, 265:166, page 329.)

Bris seudah before Musaf?

In a responsum, the Chasam Sofer discusses the following situation. The rav of a certain town had succeeded in changing the davening time for the local shul on Shabbos, so that they would now daven Shacharis before zman kerias Shema. In order to accommodate this change, the people insisted that there should be a break before they davened Musaf, during which they would eat a milchig meal as their morning seudah of Shabbos. After Musaf, they had the fleishig meal of the day, with which they fulfilled the mitzvah of seudah shelishis. When they would celebrate a bris on Shabbos, they would perform the bris immediately after Shacharis, and then celebrate the bris seudah before Musaf. The rav was concerned, because it is prohibited to have a seudas gedolah before davening Musaf.

In his reply, the Chasam Sofer commends the rav for getting the community to daven Shacharis before the time of reciting kerias Shma. He then discusses whether it is permitted to eat the Shabbos seudah before davening Musaf, and whether it will be halachically worse if the morning seudah is also a bris seudah. Based on a psak of the Bach (Orach Chayim 286), the Chasam Sofer concludes that there is halachic basis to permit them to have a milchig seudah for the bris, since they do not want to have the added expense of a fleishig bris seudah, which is what would be involved if they held the seudah after Musaf. He then notes that a seudas bris is usually considered a seudah gedolah, which is prohibited to eat before Musaf. However, since the seudas bris would be milchig, and not a lot of wine drunk, although it would be preferred to have the seudas bris after Musaf, the rav is not required to correct them for having a milchig, non-intoxicating seudah before Musaf (Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Orach Chayim #69).

Bris on Friday

Although it is generally prohibited to make a large meal on Friday, in order not to infringe on the appetite one brings with him to his Shabbos meal, exception is made for a seudas mitzvah that should not be delayed. There are two instances of this: A pidyon haben and a bris milah (Rema, Orach Chayim 249:2). In these instances, the Bach rules that the seudah should be made before the “tenth” hour, which is usually understood to mean in the afternoon, halfway between midday and sunset.

The Levush contends that if you cannot have both seudos, Shabbos and bris, the bris seudah should be done even at the expense of the Shabbos seudah, because both are seudos mitzvah, and you should perform whichever one comes first, without concern that as a result the second will not take place (Orach Chayim249:2). The Bach appears to disagree with this Levush.

Postponing the Seudah until after Shabbos

Common practice for a Shabbos bris is to make the celebratory meal on Shabbos.

Apparently, however, this approach was not always universal. The Magen Avraham (131:11) quotes from the Hagahos Minhagim that there were places in which the custom was that the seudah for a Shabbos bris was postponed until after Shabbos. I did not find any commentaries who explain the source for this custom, but I suspect that the basis is that a seudas bris on Shabbos would not be apparent that the meal was in celebration of the bris; therefore, they made a special meal on motza’ei Shabbos in honor of the bris. This can be compared to the accepted practice today that when Purim falls on Shabbos (which happens in our calendar only in Yerushalayim and other walled cities) the seudah is postponed to Sunday, in order to assure that the special Purim meal be noticeable. Since this year Purim falls on Shabbos in Yerushalayim, I hope to discuss this topic with our readership prior to Purim.

Day later

At this point, let us discuss the last of our opening questions: Can you make the meal for a bris a day later?

Although some halachic authorities assume that the bris seudah should be celebrated on the day that the bris occurred (Yaavetz in Migdal Oz, quoted by Sefer Habris 255:170 [pg 329]; Yalkut Mei’am Lo’eiz, quoting Shlah), severalauthorities rule that when the seudah could not or did not take place on the day of the bris, that it can take place afterward (Tashbeitz 3:8; Pischei Teshuvah, Yoreh Deah 265:16 quoting Chamudei Daniel). The Tashbeitz proves this from the fact that, as mentioned above, the Purim seudah is postponed from Shabbos to Sunday, as well as a custom that he records of postponing the seudah of a bris celebrated on Friday to Shabbos (Shu”t Tashbeitz 3:8).

Conclusion

The Midrash tells us that Avraham Avinu’s bris took place on Yom Kippur, on the site where the mizbei’ach of the Beis Hamikdash was later built. Thus, the atonement both of Yom Kippur and of korbanos is combined in the observance of bris milah. In the words of the Midrash, “Every year, HaKodosh Boruch Hu sees the blood of the bris of Avrohom Avinu and He atones for all our sins.” Thus, bris milah guarantees the future redemption of the Jewish people and the atonement from all sins (Pirkei Derabbi Eliezer, Chapter 29; see also Rabbeinu Bachya commentary to Bereishis 17:13). This is certainly a major reason not to shortchange its celebration!

Meet the Adams Family

The Man

Today, I will be meeting someone who is extremely concerned and knowledgeable about halacha, yet doesn’t even keep a kosher home. Neither has he ever observed Shabbos. On the other hand, he is meticulous to observe every detail of Choshen Mishpat.

Who is this individual?

Allow me to introduce you to John Adams, who is a practicing Noahide, or, as he prefers to call himself, an Adamite.

Adams asserts that he descends from the two famous presidents, a claim that I have never verified and have no reason to question. Raised in New England and a graduate of Harvard Law School, John rejected the tenets of the major Westernreligions, but retained a very strong sense of G-d’s presence and the difference betweenright and wrong. Study and introspection led him to believe that G-d probably had detailed instructions for mankind, and sincere questioning led him to discover that, of the Western religions, only Judaism does not claim a monopoly on heaven. A non-Jew who observes the Seven Laws taught to Noah and believes that G-d commanded them at Har Sinai has an excellent place reserved for him in Olam Haba.

And so, John began the practice of these laws.John is quick to point out that, with only one exception, these laws were all commanded originally to Adam. Since John is proud of his family name and lineage, he likes calling himself an Adamite.

What are the basics of Noahide practice?

A gentile is required to observe seven mitzvos, six of them prohibitions: idolatry, incest, murder, blasphemy, theft, and eiver min hachai (which we will soon discuss).  The seventh mitzvah is to have dinim, the nature of which is controversial.The Sefer Hachinuch (Mitzvah #416) and others note that these seven mitzvos are really seven categories, and a non-Jew is really required to observe several dozen mitzvos.

Kosher, Noah style

I asked John if eating meat presents any religious problems for him.

“Well, you know that Noah was prohibited from eating meat or an organ that was severed before the animal died, a prohibition you call eiver min hachai,” said John, obviously proud that he could pronounce the expression correctly.“So, sometimes I come across meat that I may not eat. The following question once came up: Moslem slaughter, called halal, involves killing the animal in a way that many of its internal organs are technically severed from the animal before it is dead. Because of this, we are very careful where we purchase our organ meats.”

May a Noahide Eat Out?

“This problem went even further,” John continued. “Could we eat in a restaurant whereforbidden meats may have contaminated their equipment?”

I admit that I had never thought of this question before. Must a gentile be concerned that a restaurant’s equipment absorbed eiver min hachai? Does a Noahide need to “kasher” a treif restaurant before he can eat there? Shver tzu zein a goy! Oy, the difficulty of beinga goy!

“How did you resolve this dilemma?” I asked curiously.

“Well, for a short time our family stopped eating out,” he replied. “You could say that we ate treif only at home. My wife found the situation intolerable – no MacDonald’s or Wendy’s? Although I know that observant Jews do not understand why this is such a serious predicament, bear in mind that we made a conscious decision not to become Jewish. One of our reasons was that we enjoy eating out wherever we can.

“So, I decided to ask some rabbis I know, but, even then, the end of the road was not clearly in sight.”

“Why was that?”

“I had difficulty finding a rabbi who could answer the question. From what I understand, a rabbi’s ordination teaches him the basics necessary to answer questions that apply to kosher kitchens. But I don’t have a kosher house – we observe Adamite laws. As one rabbi told me, ‘I don’t know if Noahides need to be concerned about what was previously cooked in their pots.’”

“How did you resolve the predicament?”

How treif is treif?

“Eventually, we found a rabbi who contended that we need not be concerned about how pots and grills were previously used. He explained that we could assume that they had not been used for eiver min hachai in the past 24 hours, which certainly sounds like a viable assumption, and that, therefore, using them would only involve the possibility of a rabbinic prohibition, which we gentiles are not required to observe. The last part makes a lot of sense, since there is nothing in the Seven Laws about listening to the rabbis, although I agree that they are smart and sincere people. [Note: I am not certain who it was that John asked. According to Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Yoreh Deah #19 (at end), there is no heter for a non-Jew to use pots that once absorbed eiver min hachai. There are poskim who disagree with the Chasam Sofer (see Darchei Teshuvah 62:5), many of these holding that there is no prohibition altogether with a gentile using pots that had absorbed the taste of eiver min hachai.]

“The result is that we now go out to eat frequently, which makes my wife very happy. It was a good decision for our marital bliss, what you call shalom bayis. Although I understand that this is another idea we are not required to observe, it is good, common sense.”

Milah in the Adams Family

When John’s son was born, he raised an interesting shaylah. To quote him: “Circumcision as a religious practice originates with G-d’s covenant with Abraham, the first Jew. But my covenant with G-d predates Abraham and does not include circumcision. However, even though there was no religious reason for my son to be circumcised, my wife and I thought it was a good idea for health reasons. On the other hand, I know that many authorities forbid a gentile, which I technically am, from observing any commandments that he is not specifically commanded (see Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 10:9).”

John is a very gregarious type, and loves to explain things fully. “We actually had another concern about whether we could circ John Jr. The second one was that many authorities contend that the seventh mitzvah of establishing ‘Laws,’ which you call ‘Dinim,’ includes a prohibition against injuring someone (Ramban, Genesis, oops, I mean Bereishis, 34:13). According to this opinion, a non-Jew who strikes someone during a street protest may lose his world to come for violating one of the seven laws. I have come too far to risk losing my share in the world to come, so I try very hard not to violate any of the laws. I called some rabbi I know to ask whether there was any problem with circumcising my son for health reasons. The rabbis I asked felt that since we are doing this for medical reasons, it issimilar to donating blood or undergoing surgery, both of which are permitted. The upshot was that we did what no self-respecting Jew should ever do: We had a pediatrician circumcise John Jr. on the third day after his birth, to emphasize that we were not performing any mitzvah.”

No Bris

Proud to show off his Hebrew, John finished by saying: “So we had a milah, but no bris. We also decided to skip the bagels and lox. Instead, my wife and I thought it was more appropriate to celebrate with shrimp cocktails, even though primordial Adam didn’t eat shrimp. All types of meat were permitted to Noah only after the Deluge, which you call the mabul. I believe that some authorities rule that Adam was permitted road-kill and was only prohibited from slaughtering, while others understand he had to be strictly vegetarian. My wife and I discussed whether to go vegetarian and keep up the Adams tradition, but decided that if meat was ‘kosher’ enough for Noah, it is kosher enough for us. We decided we weren’t keeping any stringent practices,even if they become stylish.”

Earning a Living

“Have you experienced any other serious dilemmas due to your being an ‘Adamite’?”

“Oh, yes. I almost had to change my career.”

I found this very curious. As John Adams seemed like an honest individual, it was unlikely that he had made his living by stealing or any similar dishonest activity.

Non-Jews are forbidden to perform abortions, which might affect how a Noahide gynecologist earns a living, but John is a lawyer, not a doctor. Even if John used to worship idols or had the bad habit of blaspheming, how would that affect his career?

May a Gentile Practice Law?

John’s research into Noahide law led him to the very interesting conclusion that his job as an assistant district attorney was halachically problematic. Here is what led him to this conclusion.

One of the mitzvos, or probably more accurately, categories of mitzvos,in which a Noahide is commanded is the mitzvah of dinim, literally, laws. The authorities dispute the exact definition and nature of this mitzvah. It definitely includes a requirement that gentile societies establish courts and prosecute those who violate the Noahide laws (Tosefta, Avodah Zarah 9:4; Rambam, Hilchos Melachim 9:14). Some authorities contend that the mitzvah of dinim prohibits injuring or abusing others or damaging their property (Ramban, Breishis 34:13).

However, this dispute leads to another issue that was more germane to John’s case. The halachic authorities dispute whether Noahides are governed by the Torah’s rules of property laws, which we refer to as Choshen Mishpat (Shu”t Rama #10), or whether the Torah left it to non-Jews to formulate their own property and other civil laws. If the former is true, a non-Jew may not sue in a civil court that uses any system of law other than the Torah. Instead, he must litigate in a beis din or in a court of non-Jewish judges who follow halachic guidelines. Following this approach, if a gentile accepts money based on civil litigation, he is considered as stealing, just as a Jew is. This approach is accepted by many early poskim (e.g., Tumim 110:3). Some authorities extend this mitzvah further, contending that the mitzvos governing proper functioning of courts and civil laws apply to Noahides (Minchas Chinuch #414; 415).According to this view, enforcing a criminal code that does not follow the Torah rules violates the mitzvah of dinim.

As John discovered, some authorities extend this idea quite far. For example, one of the mitzvos of the Torah prohibits a beis din from convicting or punishing on the basis of circumstantial evidence (Rambam, Sefer Hamitzvos, Lo Saaseh #290; Sefer Hachinuch #82). If the same rule applies to the laws of dinim, a gentile court is prohibited from using circumstantial evidence in litigation (Minchas Chinuch #82, #409). Thus, John was faced with a predicament. According to these opinions, a gentile who prosecutes on the basis of circumstantial evidence may be violating the mitzvos of Noah, even if the accused party appears to be guilty. It is understood that, according to these opinions, one may not prosecute for the violation of a crime that the Torah does not consider to be criminal, or to sue for damages for a claim that has no halachic basis.

Napoleonic Code and Halacha

On the other hand, other authorities contend that non-Jews are not obligated to observe the laws of Choshen Mishpat; rather, the Torah requires them to create their own legal rules and procedures (Ha’eimek She’eilah, 2:3; Chazon Ish, Bava Kamma 10:1). These authorities rule that gentiles perform a mitzvah when creating a legal system for themselves such as the Napoleonic Code, English Common Law, or any other commercial code. Following this approach, a non-Jew may use secular courts to resolve his litigation and even fulfills a mitzvah by doing so. Thus, John could certainly continue his work as a D.A., and it would be a mitzvah for him to do so.

It is interesting to note that following the stricter ruling in this case also creates a leniency. According to those who rule that a gentile is not required to observe the laws of Choshen Mishpat, a gentile may not study these laws, since the Torah prohibits a gentile from studying Torah (see Tosafos, Bava Kamma 38a s.v. karu; cf., however, the Meiri, Sanhedrin 59a, who rules that a gentile who decides to observe a certain mitzvah may study the laws of that mitzvah in order to fulfill it correctly.)On the other hand, according to those who contend that the mitzvos of dinim follow the laws of Choshen Mishpat, a gentile is required to study these laws in order to observe his mitzvos properly (Shu”t Rama #10)).

John’s Dilemma

The rabbis with whom John consulted felt that a gentile could work as a district attorney. However, John had difficulty with this approach. He found it hard to imagine that G-d would allow man to decide the law for himself, and felt it more likely that mankind was expected to observe the Torah’s civil code. He therefore gravitated to the opinion of those who held that gentiles are required to observe the laws of Choshen Mishpat. As a result, he felt that he should no longer work in the D.A.’s office, since his job is to prosecute based on laws and a criminal justice system that the Torah does not accept.

“What did you do?”

“I decided to ‘switch sides’ and become a defense attorney, which has a practical advantage, because I make a lot more money.”

“How do you handle a case where you know that your client is guilty?”

“Firstly, is he guilty according to halachah? Did he perform a crime? Is there halachically acceptable evidence? If there is no halachically acceptable evidence, he is not required to plead guilty. Furthermore, since none of my clients are Noahides or observant Jews, they can’t make it to heaven anyway, so let them enjoy themselves here. Even if my client is guilty, the punishment determined by the court is not halachically acceptable. It is very unclear whether jail terms are halachically acceptable punishment for gentiles.

“Philosophically, I was always opposed to jail time. I think that there are better ways to teach someone to right their ways than by incarceration, which is a big expense for society.”

Interesting Noahide Laws

“Have you come across any other curious issues?”

“Here is a really unusual question I once raised,” John responded. “Am I permitted to vote in the elections for a local judge? According to some authorities, the Torah’s prohibition against appointing a judge who is halachically incompetent applies equally to gentiles (Minchas Chinuch #414). Thus, one may not appoint someone to the bench who does not know the appropriate Torah laws, which excludes all the candidates. When I vote, I am actively choosing a candidate who is halachically unqualified to judge. I therefore decided that, although there are authorities who permit such judging and therefore this voting is permitted, I wanted to be   consistent in my position. As a result, I vote religiously, but not for judgeships.

Becoming Jewish

“John, did you ever consider becoming Jewish?”

“First of all, I know that the rabbis will discourage me from becoming Jewish, particularly since I don’t really want to. I know exactly what I am required to keep and I keep that properly. I have no interest in being restricted to where and what I eat, and I have no interest in observing Shabbos, which, at present, I may not observe anyway, and that is fine with me (Sanhedrin 58b). I am very willing to be a ‘Shabbos goy’— and I understand well what the Jews need –but it is rare that I find myself in this role. Remember, I do not live anywhere near a Jewish community.

“Although I have never learned how to read Hebrew – why bother, I am not supposed to study Torah anyway – I ask enough questions from enough rabbis to find out all I need to know.”

In Conclusion

Although it seems strange for a non-Jew to ask a rav a shaylah, this should actually be commonplace. Indeed, many non-Jews are concerned about their future place in Olam Haba and, had the nations not been deceived by spurious religions, many thousands more would observe the mitzvos that they are commanded. When we meet sincere non-Jews, we should direct them correctly in their quest for truth. Gentiles who observe these mitzvos because Hashem commanded them through Moshe Rabbeinu are called “Chassidei Umos HaOlam” and merit a place in Olam Haba.

Carding, Combing and Disentangling

Question #1: Shabbos Prohibitions

“Does every av melacha of Shabbos have tolados?”

Question #2: Sinews

“How are sinews like wool?”

Question #3: Dog Grooming

“Is it prohibited min haTorah to comb out my dog’s hair on Shabbos?”

Introduction:

The Mishnah in the seventh chapter of Mesechta Shabbos lists the 39 avos melachos, or major categories of work, prohibited on Shabbos. These melachos were all involved in the building of the Mishkan, which is a major factor in determining whether something is prohibited on Shabbos min haTorah.

There is another rule that each av melacha has at least one toladah (see Bava Kama 2a). A toladah is an activity that is prohibited min haTorah, and is derived from one of the avos melachos.

The Talmud Yerushalmi (Shabbos 7:2) tells us a fascinating story how the great amora’im,Rabbi Yochanan and Reish Lakeish, studied diligently this one chapter of Mishnah, the seventh chapter of Mesechta Shabbos, for three and a half years! As a result of their studies, they discovered 39 tolados for each av melacha. We find this incredible, since, for some of the avos melacha, finding more than one or two tolados is difficult. Several of the rishonim, particularly the Rambam, the Sefer Yerei’im and the Semag, endeavor to find tolados for the melachos. Yet, even with all their considerable efforts, we often find no more than one or two tolados for a particular av melacha.

There are a few reasons why it is important to know how many melachos there are and how to categorize them. One reason is because a person who negligently violated one of the melacha categories on Shabbos is required to offer a korban chatos as atonement. Of course, we have no way of fulfilling this today, but, soon, when the Beis Hamikdash is rebuilt, this mitzvah will again become incumbent upon us.

This requirement to offer a korban chatos is only if the violation was min haTorah. There are many conditions that need to be met for a melacha activity to be a Torah prohibition. For example, someone who performed a melacha activity, but did so in an unusual way, does not violate Torah law. This is sometimes referred to as ein darko bekach, not the usual way of performing the particular activity. At other times the Gemara calls this, batlah da’atan eitzel kol odom, since most people do not consider this the normal way (Shabbos 92b).

Here is an example of this rule. Rabbah bar bar Channah, quoting Rabbi Yochanan, said, “One who twists wool into thread on Shabbos while it is still on the back of an animal is in violation of three melachos, one for shearing, one for menapeitz (I will explain this melacha shortly), and one for spinning thread.” Rav Kahana disagreed with Rabbah bar bar Channah, explaining that performing these activities while the wool is still attached to the animal is an atypical way of performing them. The Gemara then questioned Rav Kahana on the basis of a statement of an earlier authority, the tanna Rabbi Nechemyah, who noted that the women who spun the goat hair used for the Mishkan indeed spun the hair while it was still attached to the goats. Thus, if this was the way the melacha was performed when the Mishkan was built, it should automatically qualify as a melacha min haTorah! The Gemara retorts that, notwithstanding that the Mishkan was indeed constructed this way, Rav Kahana is correct that this is an atypical way to spin thread and therefore exempt from being a Torah violation of melacha. Since this method involves an unusually high level of skill, and, other than for the Mishkan, was certainly not the typical manner in which the melacha was performed, the way it was done in the Mishkan does not define what is a Torah violation of performing this melacha (Shabbos 74b).

Disentangling

The rest of this article will discuss the melacha called menapeitz, often translated as disentangling, combing or carding, but none of these terms explains the melachah adequately. When the Mishnah inventories the 39 melachos, it lists menapeitz in between melabein, which means either laundering or bleaching, and toveh, which is spinning fiber into thread.

As we see from several places in the Gemara, after wool and similar fibers were shorn from the animal and cleaned, they were combed or untangled in order to be able to continue processing them into cloth. The wool shorn from a sheep cannot be used immediately because it is filthy and very tangled. Cleaning it involves the melacha of melabein, which we will not discuss in this article. Menapeitz includes untangling the wool. Yet, as we will soon see, some authorities describe menapeitz in other ways, and, certainly, not all disentangling is menapeitz.

Tzadi or samach?

There is even a question as to whether the correct name for the melacha is menapeitz, with a tzadi at the end, or menafeis, with a samach, which is the way it is spelled by the Aruch. Rav Nosson ben Yechiel ben Avraham, was an early rishon who lived in Rome in the eleventh century. He was the head of a yeshivah located there, and authored a work called the Aruch, which is probably the earliest dictionary of Aramaic. In it, he quotes, at times extensively, various sources in the Gemara in which a term is used, translates the word into Hebrew and often explains the Gemara and other halachic concepts. The work, which is quoted by his contemporary, Rashi (see Shabbos 13b), and many times by Tosafos, had several addenda added to it in the centuries following, by such prominent poskim as the sixteenth-century Yerushalayim gadol Rav Menachem di Lunzano, and the nineteenth-century German dayan Rav Aharon Fuld. At times, only a seasoned reader can figure out which comments are from the original Aruch and which are additions from these latter figures. Other additions are from the seventeenth-century physician and philologist Binyomin Musafia, whose work was called originally Musaf Ha’Aruch, and from the renowned eighteenth-century Talmud chacham and editor Rav Yeshayah Pik.

Menapeitz in Tanach

Let us examine the root meaning of the word menapeitz in Tanach, and then see how the word is used in the context of the laws of Shabbos. The earliest use of the word is in parshas Noach (Bereishis 9:19), where the posuk says, “sheloshah eileh bnei Noach, umei’eileh noftzah chol ha’aretz, These are the three sons of Noach, and from them spread (the population) of the world.” We also find the word meaning to shatter, such as in the pasuk, “ki’chli yotzeir tenapetzeim, You will shatter them like a potter’s vessel” (Tehillim 2:9). The word conveys the same idea in Shoftim (7:19), “venafotz hakadim asher biyadam, They smashed the jugs that were in their hands,” and in Yirmiyohu (48:12) “venivleihem yenapeitzu, They will smash their barrels.” We find it used in a more figurative sense in Yeshayohu (33:3), “mei’romemusecha noftzu goyim, From Your loftiness, nations have dispersed.”

Furthermore, the Aruch provides three Talmudic references for the root nofatz: Shabbos 140, Avodah Zarah 7, and Chullin 72.

We now have a question on the Aruch. If the melacha on Shabbos is spelled with a samach, and there is clearly a word, both in Tanach and in Chazal, spelled with a tzadi,. why does the Aruch spell it with a samach? Are the letters samach and tzadi interchangeable, as we find occasionally? One could explain the variant spellings this way, although it is clear from the Talmudic references above that the Aruch himself understood that there are two roots with similar meanings. The root with a tzadi means to shatter, smash or disperse, whereas that with a samach means to disentangle.

Rishonim on the melacha

In his commentary to the Mishnah discussing the melacha of menapeitz, the Rambam (Shabbos 7:2) describes the melacha as beating wool with a stick. In the monumental recent work, Ma’aseh Oreg, which elucidates the various processes used in the days of Chazal to make cloth, Dayan Yisroel Gukovitski explains that after wool was washed and bleached, it was placed on a table and beaten with rods, which loosened the fibers and crushed any matter that prevented the wool from disentangling. This was an important stage in preparing the wool to be spun into thread or pressed into felt.

Rishonim other than the Rambam explain menapeitz in other ways. For example, in the context of the law of a nazir combing his hair, Rashi explains the word menapeitz to mean disentangling hair (see Rashi, Shabbos 50b; see Mishnah, Nazir 42a). In the context of the melacha menapeitz, Rashi understands this to mean picking apart and separating the clumped wool into fibers that can be properly spun.

Other authorities explain the melacha to mean combing the wool out with an iron comb (Meiri, Shabbos 73b; Chayei Odom 23:1). This is a later step in the processing of the fibers to make them ready for spinning into thread. By the way, Rashi (Bava Basra 19a s.v. Tzipei) also describes the act of menapeitz as combing, although that context is not discussing the laws of Shabbos.

It is unclear that there is any halachic dispute among these different approaches. They may simply be describing different stages in the melacha, and that the melacha includes any or all of these processes.

Carding

Some late commentators translate menapeitz as carding,because the word card as a verb

means to disentangle fibers. (The word card can also mean the specific brush used to disentangle fibers prior to spinning them.) This seems to fit Rashi’s old French word, carpir (Shabbos 73a, see Avnei Neizer 170:8 and Targum Hala’az #1618).

However, at this stage we are faced with a question asked by one of the great late acharonim, the Avnei Neizer (170:9). There are two steps involved in preparing clean fibers so that they can be spun into thread. First, one disentangles the wool; then, one combs the fibers together evenly so that they can be spun. Since we now know that menapeitz means disentangling, why isn’t the second step, combing it into a form that can be spun, a separate melacha? In other words, there should be two melachos – one called menapeitz and another called soreik, combing – between the melacha of melabein, which is laundering or bleaching, and the next melacha, toveh, spinning.

The Avnei Neizer (170:9) answers that since this is all one process, it is all included as one melacha, notwithstanding that it can be subdivided into two steps. He then asks why the melacha is called menapeitz and not soreik, combing, which is the final stage? To this he answers that combing is performed with an implement, whereas the disentangling can be performed either with an implement or by hand. The Mishnah called the melacha menapeitz so that we would realize that disentangling by hand is also considered the primary melacha.

Menapeitz times two

Now that we understand the basics of this melacha, we will discuss some of its details.

According to some authorities, one can violate the melacha of menapeitz twice on the same material. Certain methods of processing wool involve combing out the material and then soaking it in a special solution, so that it will absorb dye better. This soaking causes the wool to clump again, and one needs to comb it out a second time. According to the Maasei Rokei’ach, if both of these actions were performed on Shabbos, this second combing would be another Torah violation of the melacha of menapeitz (Hilchos Shabbos 9:12).

Sheep and other animals

Although the prohibition of shatnez applies min haTorah exclusively to the wool of sheep and not to the hair or wool of other animals, such as goats, camels, llamas and rabbits (see Kel’ayim 9:1), all opinions agree that menapeitz applies to the wool of all animals that may be used for clothing. By the way, the difference between wool and hair, the two English words that describe what grows on an animal, is that wool is hair that is soft and therefore suitable for clothing. Some goats, such as cashmere and angora varieties, produce soft wool, whereas others produce coarser hair, suitable for making into burlap sacks but not into clothing.

Carding coarser material unsuitable for cloth manufacture, but usable as burlap, also violates menapeitz.

Linen and cotton

There appears to be a dispute among rishonim whether the melacha of menapeitz applies min haTorah to textile materials that grow from the ground (plant-based), such as cotton, jute, or flax (which is processed into linen). Rashi seems to hold that menapeitz applies only to materials that do not grow from the ground (Rashi, Shabbos 73b; see also Meiri ad locum), whereas the Rambam (Hilchos Shabbos 9:12) and the Semag rule expressly that menapeitz applies to all materials. The Chayei Odom rules that menapeitz applies also to plant-based textiles.

Even according to those who accept the Rambam’s opinion that menapeitz applies to plant-based textiles, there is a further dispute whether beating a flax plant to soften and loosen its fibers violates menapeitz or tochein, grinding. In his commentary on the Semag, the fifteenth-century posek, Rav Isaac Stein, rules that beating flax violates the melacha of menapeitz. On the other hand, the Maharshal, in his comments on the Semag, disagrees, contending that menapeitz must involve disentangling and not simply beating.

Cottonseed

According to several rishonim, combing out cotton, which removes the seeds, violates a different melacha, dosh, threshing, because it separates the usable textile material from the seeds, which are unusable as clothing (Rashi, Shabbos 73b, Ran and Meiri ad locum). (Cottonseed is crushed for its oil. At the time of the Gemara, cottonseed oil was used as inferior kindling oil [see Rashi, Shabbos 21a s.v. Mish’cha]. Today, it is a source of cooking oil, used, for example, in the production of potato chips.) The melacha of dosh is violated when one breaks the natural, physical connection between two items that are dissimilar in their use, thus creating a product that can be used easily. For example, threshing breaks the connection between the kernels and the chaff, thus making the kernels usable; squeezing separates the juice or oil from the fruit. Since the Chayei Odom ruled like the Rambam that menapeitz is applicable to plant-based textiles, he concludes that combing out cotton or similar textiles, thereby removing the seeds while preparing the fibers for spinning into cloth, violates two melachos, dosh and menapeitz. However, the Bris Moshe disagrees (Commentary to Semag 65:134). It is beyond the topic of this article to explain the significance of an action violating two different melachos.

Sinews

Let us return to our second question, “How are sinews like wool?”

The halacha requires that Sifrei Torah and tefillin be sewn by a strong, very special type of “thread” made of sinew. The processing of these sinews so that they can be used as thread is also considered an act of menapeitz (Rambam, Hilchos Shabbos 9:15). The way these “threads” are processed is as follows: The thick sinews of an animal are dried and then smashed with a hammer, which makes them form a mushy mass, somewhat similar to the way wool appears after it has been carded. The beaten sinew can then be spun into thread, which constitutes the melacha of toveh.

The Avnei Neizer (170:6) asks why the hammering process that precedes the spinning of the giddin (sinews) is not a violation of a different melacha, tochein, grinding, since one is thereby pulverizing the dried sinew. He concludes that, indeed, both melachos are violated, tochein and menapeitz. The Rambam simply told us that the spinning is a toladah of menapeitz, but did not discuss the fact that one violated Shabbos already when hammering the sinew.

Combing hair

While showering, many people use hair conditioner to facilitate combing the tangles and knots out of their hair. Realize how much more difficult this is for a sheep, whose hair is much curlier, and it has been quite a while since it last brushed its hair! And it certainly didn’t use conditioner!

The halachic authorities discuss whether a woman can disentangle her hair on Shabbos, all ruling that this is permitted provided she does not do it in a way that will be a psik reisha whereby she definitely pulls out hair (end of Orach Chayim, 303). Pulling out hair is forbidden because of a different melacha, gozeiz, shearing. However, if, as we explained, any type of disentangling involves the melacha of menapeitz, why is disentangling hair not forbidden as menapeitz?

The answer is that the melacha of menapeitz is preparing material so that it can be spun into thread or made into cloth (Avnei Neizer, Orach Chayim 170:2, 171; Chayei Odom). Unless a woman is planning to spin her hair into cloth, it will not be prohibited as menapeitz.

Dog grooming

Thus, we can now address the third of our opening questions: “Is it prohibited min haTorah to comb out my dog’s hair on Shabbos?”

Unless one intends to use its hair as a textile, there is no melacha of menapeitz involved. It is presumably still prohibited because of muktzah,and because of a concern that someone will likely pull out hairs while combing.

In conclusion

Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch (Shemos 20:10) notes that people mistakenly think that work is prohibited min Hatorah on Shabbos so that it be a day of rest. He points out that the Torah does not prohibit doing avodah, which connotes hard work, but melacha, activities or actions which bring purpose and accomplishment. Shabbos is a day that we refrain from constructing and altering the world for our own purposes. By refraining from our own creative acts on Shabbos, we allow Hashem’s rule to be the focus of creation (Shemos 20:11).

The Basics of Birkas Hagomeil

Since parsha Eikev includes many references to brochos thanking Hashem for all His kindness, it is certainly an appropriate week to study:

Question #1: “I recently underwent some surgery. At what point in my recovery do I recite birkas hagomeil?”

Question #2: “May I recite birkas hagomeil if I will not be able to get to shul for kri’as haTorah?”

Answer:

There are two mitzvos related to thanking Hashem for deliverance from perilous circumstances. In Parshas Tzav, the Torah describes an offering brought in the Mishkan, or the Beis Hamikdash, called the korban todah.

There is also a brocha, called birkas hagomeil, which is recited when someone has been saved from a dangerous situation. The Rosh (Brachos 9:3) and the Tur (Orach Chayim 219) explain that this brocha was instituted as a replacement for the korban todah that we can no longer bring, since, unfortunately, our Beis Hamikdash lies in ruin. Thus, understanding the circumstances and the laws of the korban todah and of birkas hagomeil is really one combined topic.

Tehillim on Salvation

The Gemara derives many of the laws of birkas hagomeil from a chapter of Tehillim, Psalm 107. There, Dovid Hamelech describes four different types of treacherous predicaments in which a person would pray to Hashem for salvation. Several times, the Psalm repeats the following passage, Vayitzaku el Hashem batzar lahem, mimetzukoseihem yatzileim, when they were in distress, they cried out to Hashem asking Him to deliver them from their straits. Hashem hears the supplicants’ prayers and redeems them from calamity, whereupon they recognize Hashem’s role and sing shira to acknowledge His deliverance. The passage reflecting this thanks, Yodu lashem chasdo venifle’osav livnei adam, they give thanks to Hashem for His kindness and His wondrous deeds for mankind, is recited four times in the Psalm, each time expressing the emotions of someone desiring to tell others of his appreciation. The four types of salvation mentioned in the verse are: a wayfarer who traversed a desert, a captive who was freed, someone who recovered from illness, and a seafarer who returned safely to land.

Based on this chapter of Tehillim, the Gemara declares, arba’ah tzerichim lehodos: yordei hayam, holchei midbaros, umi shehayah choleh venisra’pe, umi shehayah chavush beveis ha’asurim veyatza — four people are required to recite birkas hagomeil: those who traveled by sea, those who journeyed through the desert, someone who was ill and recovered and someone who was captured and gained release (Brachos 54b). (Several commentators provide reasons why the Gemara lists the four in a different order than does the verse, a topic that we will forgo due to limited space.) The Tur (Orach Chayim 219) mentions an interesting method for remembering the four cases, taken from our daily shmoneh esrei prayer: vechol hachayim yoducha selah, explaining that the word chayim has four letters, ches, yud, yud and mem, which allude to chavush, yissurim, yam and midbar, meaning captive, the sufferings of illness, sea, and desert — the four types of travail mentioned by the verse and the Gemara. (It is noteworthy that when the Aruch Hashulchan [219:5] quotes this, he has the ches represent “choli,” illness [rather than chavush, captive], which means that he would explain the yud of yissurim to mean the sufferings of captivity.)

Rav Hai Gaon notes that these four calamities fall under two categories: two of them, traveling by sea and through the desert, are situations to which a person voluntarily subjected himself, whereas the other two, illness and captivity, are involuntary (quoted by Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Orach Chayim #51). Thus, we see that one bensches gomeil after surviving either of these types of dangers, regardless of whether it was within his control or not.

Some commentaries note that the Rambam cites the Gemara passage, arbaah tzerichim lehodos, four people are required to thank Hashem, only in the context of birkas hagomeil and not regarding the laws of korban todah. This implies that, in his opinion, korban todah is always a voluntary offering, notwithstanding the fact that Chazal required those who were saved to recite birkas hagomeil (Sefer Hamafteiach). However, both Rashi and the Rashbam, in their respective commentaries to Vayikra 7:12, explain that the “four people” are all required to bring a korban todah upon being saved. As I noted above, the Rosh states that since, unfortunately, we cannot offer a korban todah, birkas hagomeil was substituted.

A Minyan

When the Gemara (Brachos 54b) teaches the laws of birkas hagomeil, it records two interesting details: (1) that birkas hagomeil should be recited in the presence of a minyan and (2) that it should be recited in the presence of two talmidei chachamim.

No Minyan

Is a minyan essential for birkas hagomeil, as it is for some other brachos, such as sheva brachos? In other words, must someone who cannot join a minyan to recite birkas hagomeil forgo the brocha?

The Tur contends that the presence of a minyan and two talmidei chachamim is not a requirement to recite birkas hagomeil, but only the preferred way. In other words, someone who cannot easily assemble a minyan or talmidei chachamim may, nevertheless, recite birkas hagomeil. The Beis Yosef disagrees regarding the requirement of a minyan, feeling that one should not recite birkas hagomeil without a minyan present. However, he rules that if someone errantly recited birkas hagomeil without a minyan, he should not recite it again, but should try to find a minyan and recite the text of the brocha without Hashem’s Name, to avoid a brocha levatalah, reciting a blessing in vain (Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 219:3). The Mishnah Berurah follows an approach closer to that of the Tur, ruling that someone unable to assemble a minyan may recite birkas hagomeil without a minyan. However, he adds that someone in a place where there is no minyan should wait up to thirty days to see if he will have the opportunity to bensch gomeil in the presence of a minyan. If he has already waited thirty days, he should recite the birkas hagomeil without a minyan and not wait longer.

When Do We Recite Birkas Hagomeil?

The prevalent custom is to recite birkas hagomeil during or after kri’as haTorah (Hagahos Maimaniyos 10:6). The Orchos Chayim understands that this custom is based on convenience, because kri’as haTorah also requires a minyan (quoted by Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 219). The Chasam Sofer presents an alternative reason for reciting birkas hagomeil during or after kri’as haTorah. He cites sources that explain that kri’as haTorah serves as a substitute for offering korbanos, and therefore reciting birkas hagomeil at the time of kri’as hatorah is a better substitute for the korban todah that we cannot offer (Shu”t Chasam Sofer, Orach Chayim #51).

Do We Count the Talmidei Chachamim?

I quoted above the Gemara that states that one should recite birkas hagomeil in the presence of a minyan and two talmidei chachamim The Gemara discusses whether this means that birkas hagomeil should be recited in the presence of a minyan plus two talmidei chachamim, for a total of twelve people, or whether the minyan should include two talmidei chachamim. The Rambam (Hilchos Brachos 10:8) and the Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 219:3) rule that the minyan includes the talmidei chachamim, whereas the Pri Megadim rules that the requirement is a minyan plus the talmidei chachamim. Notwithstanding the Pri Megadim’s objections, the Biur Halacha concludes, according to the Shulchan Aruch, that one needs only a minyan including the talmidei chachamim.

No Talmid Chacham to be Found

The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim 219:3) then adds that if someone is in a place where it is uncommon to find talmidei chachamim, he may recite birkas hagomeil in the presence of a minyan, even without any talmidei chachamim present.

Time Limits

Is there a time limit within which one must recite birkas hagomeil? Indeed, many early authorities contend that one must recite birkas hagomeil within a certain number of days after surviving the calamity. The Beis Yosef (Orach Chayim 219) quotes a dispute among rishonim, the Ramban holding that one should recite birkas hagomeil within three days, the Rashba, five days, and the Tur implying that there is no time limit. The Shulchan Aruch (219:6) concludes that one should preferably not wait more than three days to recite birkas hagomeil, but someone who waited longer may still recite it, and there is no time limit. Based on this conclusion, the Magen Avraham (219:6) rules that someone released from captivity after kri’as haTorah on Monday should not wait until Thursday, the next kri’as haTorah, to recite birkas hagomeil, since this is already the fourth day from when he was saved. It is preferred that he bensch gomeil earlier, even though he will do so without kri’as haTorah. As I mentioned above, the Mishnah Berurah permits bensching gomeil even after thirty days, although he prefers a delay of no longer than three days.

What about at night?

May one bensch gomeil at night? If bensching gomeil is a replacement for the korban todah, and all korbanos in the Beis Hamikdash could be offered only during the day, may we recite the birkas hagomeil at night? This question is addressed by the Chasam Sofer in an interesting responsum (Shu”t Chasam Sofer Orach Chayim #51). The Chasam Sofer’s case concerned Chacham Shabtei Elchanan, who was the rov of the community of Trieste. This city is currently in northeastern Italy, but, at the time of the Chasam Sofer, it was part of the Austrian Empire, which also ruled the Chasam Sofer’s city of Pressburg. (Today, Pressburg is called Bratislava and is the capital of Slovakia.)

Rav Elchanan had returned from a sea voyage, and his community, grateful for their rav’s safe arrival, greeted him with a joyous celebration on the evening of his homecoming. At this gathering, Rav Elchanan recited the birkas hagomeil in front of the large congregation.

One well-known local scholar, Rav Yitzchak Goiten, took issue with Rav Elchanan’s reciting the birkas hagomeil at night, contending that since the mitzvah of birkas hagomeil is a substitute for the korban todah, it cannot be performed at night, as korbanos cannot be offered at night. Furthermore, he was upset that Rav Elchanan had not followed the accepted practice of reciting birkas hagomeil at kri’as haTorah.

This question was then addressed to the Chasam Sofer: which of the eminent scholars of Trieste was correct?

The Chasam Sofer explains that although birkas hagomeil substitutes for the korban todah, this does not mean that it shares all the laws of the korban. The idea is that since we cannot offer a korban todah today, our best option is to substitute the public recital of birkas hagomeil.

The Chasam Sofer noted that the gathering of the the people to celebrate their rav’s safereturn was indeed the appropriate time to recite birkas hagomeil. In this situation, the Chasam Sofer would have recited birkas hagomeil in front of the assembled community, but he would have explained why he did so in order that people would continue to recite birkas hagomeil at kri’as haTorah, as is the minhag klal Yisroel.

Ten or Ten plus One?

There is a dispute among the authorities whether the individual reciting the brocha is counted as part of the minyan or if we require a minyan besides him (Raanach, quoted by Rabbi Akiva Eiger to 219:3). Most authorities rule that we can count the person reciting the brocha as one of the minyan (Mishnah Berurah 219:6). Shaar Hatziyun rallies proof to this conclusion, since it says that one should recite the brocha during kri’as haTorah, and no one says that one can do this only when there is an eleventh person attending the kri’as haTorah.

Stand up and Thank

The Rambam (Hilchos Tefillah, 10:8) requires that a person stand up when he recites birkas hagomeil. The Kesef Mishneh, the commentary on the Rambam written by Rav Yosef Karo — the author of the Beis Yosef and the Shulchan Aruch — notes that he is unaware of any source that requires one to stand when reciting this brocha, and he therefore omits this halacha in Shulchan Aruch.

The Bach disagrees, feeling that there is an allusion to this practice in Tehillim 107, the chapter that includes the sources for this brocha, but other commentators dispute this allusion (Elyah Rabbah 219:3). The Elyah Rabbah then presents a different reason why one should stand, explaining that birkas hagomeil is a form of Hallel, which must be recited standing.

Still other authorities present different reasons for the Rambam’s ruling that one must stand for birkas hagomeil. The Chasam Sofer explains that this is because of kavod hatzibur, the respect due an assembled community of at least ten people. Yet another approach  (Nahar Shalom 219:1) is that since birkas hagomeil replaces the korban todah, it is similar to shmoneh esrei, which is said standing and which is similarly bimkom korban (Brachos 26b).

The Rama does not mention any requirement that birkas hagomeil be recited while standing, implying that he agrees with the Shulchan Aruch’s decision, but the Bach and other later authorities require one to stand when reciting the brocha. The later authorities conclude that one should recite the brocha while standing, but that bedei’evid, after the fact, one who recited the brocha while sitting fulfilled his obligation and should not repeat the brocha (Mishnah Berurah 219:4).

Only these four?

If someone survived a different type of danger, such as an accident or armed robbery, does he recite birkas hagomeil? Or was birkas hagomeil instituted only for the four specific dangers mentioned by the pasuk and the Gemara?

We find a dispute among rishonim regarding this question. The Orchos Chayim quotes an opinion that one should bensch gomeil after going beneath a leaning wall or over a dangerous bridge, but he disagrees, contending that one recites birkas hagomeil only after surviving one of the four calamitous situations mentioned in the Gemara. On the other hand, others conclude that one should recite birkas hagomeil after surviving any dangerous situation (Shu”t Rivash # 337). The Rivash contends that the four circumstances mentioned by Tehillim and the Gemara are instances in which it is common to be exposed to life-threatening danger and, therefore, they automatically generate a requirement to recite birkas hagomeil. However, someone who survived an attacked by a wild ox or bandits certainly should recite birkas hagomeil, although it is not one of the four cases. Furthermore, the Rivash notes, since Chazal instituted that the person who was saved and his children and grandchildren recite a brocha (she’oso li/le’avi neis bamokom hazeh, see Brochos 54a and Brachos Maharam) when seeing the place where the miracle occurred, certainly one should recite a brocha of thanks over the salvation itself!

The Shulchan Aruch quotes both sides of the dispute, but implies that one should follow the Rivash, and this is also the conclusion of the Taz and the later authorities (Mishnah Berurah; Aruch Hashulchan). Therefore, contemporary custom is to recite birkas hagomeil after surviving any potentially life-threatening situation.

Before going on to the next subtopic, I want to note that a different rishon presents a diametrically opposed position from that of the Rivash, contending that even one who traveled by sea or desert does not recite birkas hagomeil unless he experienced a miracle. This approach is based on the words of the pesukim in Tehillim 107 that form the basis for birkas hagomeil (Rabbeinu Manoach, Hilchos Tefillah 10:8, quoting Raavad). (In halachic conclusion, the Biur Halacha writes that one recites birkas hagomeil even if there was no difficulty on the sea voyage or the desert journey, notwithstanding the verses of Tehillim.)

How Sick?

How ill must a person have been to require that he recite birkas hagomeil upon his recovery? I am aware of three opinions among the rishonim concerning this question.

(1) Some hold that one recites birkas hagomeil even for an ailment as minor as a headache or stomachache (Aruch).

(2) Others contend that one recites birkas hagomeil only if he was ill enough to be bedridden, even when he was not dangerously ill (Ramban, Toras Ha’adam, page 49; Hagahos Maimoniyus, Brachos 10:6, quoting Rabbeinu Yosef).

(3) A third approach holds that one should recite birkas hagomeil only if the illness was potentially life threatening (Rama).

The prevalent practice of Sefardim, following the Shulchan Aruch, is according to the second approach — reciting birkas hagomeil after recovery from any illness that made the person bedridden. The prevalent Ashkenazic practice is to recite birkas hagomeil only when the illness was life threatening, notwithstanding the fact that the Bach, who was a well-respected Ashkenazic authority, concurs with the second approach.

How Recuperated?

At what point do we assume that the person is recuperated enough that he can recite the birkas hagomeil for surviving his travail? The poskim rule that he does not recite birkas hagomeil until he is able to walk well on his own (Elyah Rabbah; Mishnah Berurah).

Chronic illness

The halachic authorities rule that someone suffering from a chronic ailment who had a life threatening flareup recites birkas hagomeil upon recovery from the flareup, even though he still needs to deal with the ailment that caused the serious problem (Tur).

Conclusion

Rav Hirsch (Commentary to Tehillim 100:1) notes that the root of the word for thanks is the same as that for viduy, confession and admitting wrongdoing. All kinds of salvation should elicit in us deep feelings of gratitude for what Hashem has done for us in the past and does in the present. This is why it can be both an acknowledgement of guilt and thanks.

We often cry out to Hashem in crisis, sigh in relief when the crisis passes, but fail to thank Him adequately for the salvation. Our thanks to Hashem should match the intensity of our pleas. Birkas hagomeil gives us a concrete brocha to awaken our thanks for deliverance. And even in our daily lives, when, hopefully, we do not encounter dangers that meet the criteria of saying birkas hagomeil, we should still fill our hearts with thanks, focus these thoughts during our recital of mizmor lesodah, az yashir, modim or at some other appropriate point in our prayer.

Some Contemporary Bishul Akum Curiosities

Photo by melodi2 from FreeImages

Situation #1: THE GREAT CRANBERRY DEBATE

Avrumie calls me with the following question: “We are presently studying the laws of bishul akum in kollel, and someone asked how we can buy canned cranberries that are not bishul Yisrael, that is, not cooked by Jews. They seem to have all the characteristics of bishul akum.

Situation #2: THE BISHUL YISRAEL QUIZZER

A different member of Avrumie’s kollel raised another question:

Is there a legitimate halachic reason why a hechsher would require the same product to be bishul Yisrael in one factory and not in another?

Situation #3: DRAMA IN REAL LIFE

Many years ago, I substituted for the mashgiach at a vegetable cannery that was producing products for a kosher manufacturer who claimed that his products were bishul Yisrael. After arriving at the factory first thing in the morning as instructed, a foreman directed me to push a certain button, which, I assumed, initiated the cooking process. Upon examining the equipment, however, I realized that this button simply directed the cans to enter the cooker. This would probably make only the first cans bishul Yisrael, but not the rest of the day’s production. A different solution was necessary, such as momentarily lowering the temperature of the cooker and then resetting it; this would accomplish that I had added fuel to the cooking process when I reset the temperature and thereby had participated in the cooking of the vegetables. When I notified the foreman of this requirement, he firmly asserted: “This is the only button the rabbis ever push.”

Having no connections at the factory, I called the rabbi responsible for the hechsher; he did not answer his phone at that time of the morning.

What was I to do? Let Jews eat non-kosher veggies?

INTRODUCTION TO BISHUL AKUM CUISINE

Modern food production and distribution affects us in many ways, including kashrus. One aspect of kashrus with many new and interesting applications is bishul akum, the prohibition against eating food cooked by a gentile. Chazal instituted this law to guarantee uncompromised kashrus and to discourage inappropriate social interaction, which, in turn, may lead to idolatry (Rashi, Avodah Zarah 38a s.v. miderabbanan and Tosafos ad loc.; Rashi, Avodah Zarah 35b s. v. vehashelakos; see also Avodah Zarah 36b). This law has numerous ramifications for caterers and restaurants that need to guarantee that a Jew is involved in the cooking of their product. It also prohibits Jewish households from allowing a gentile to cook without making appropriate arrangements.

SICHON’S FOLLY

The Gemara tries to find a source for the prohibition of bishul akum in the Torah, itself. When the Bnei Yisrael offered to purchase all their victuals from Sichon and his nation, Emori, they could purchase only food that was unchanged through gentile cooking (see Devarim 2:26-28; and Bamidbar 21:21-25). Any food altered by Emori cooking was prohibited, because of bishul akum (Avodah Zarah 37b).

Although the Gemara rejects this Biblical source and concludes that bishul akum is an injunction of the Sages, early authorities theorize that this proscription was enacted very early in Jewish history; otherwise, how could the Gemara even suggest that its origins are Biblical (see Tosafos s.v. vehashelakos)?

Please note that throughout the article, whenever I say that something does not involve bishul akum, it might still be forbidden for a variety of other reasons. Also, the purpose of our column is not to furnish definitive halachic ruling, but to provide background in order to know when and what to ask one’s rav.

BASIC HALACHIC BACKGROUND

When Chazal prohibited bishul akum, they did not prohibit all gentile-cooked foods, but only foods where the gentile’s cooking provides significant benefit to the consumer. For example, there are three major categories of gentile-cooked foods that are permitted. We can remember them through the acronym: YUM, Yehudi, Uncooked, Monarch.

I. Yehudi

If a Jew participated in the cooking, the food is permitted, even when a gentile did most of the cooking.

II. Uncooked

A food that could be eaten raw is exempt from the prohibition of bishul akum, even when a non-Jew cooked it completely. This is because cooking such an item is not considered a significant enhancement (Rashi, Beitzah 16a).

III. Monarch

Bishul akum applies only to food that one would serve on a king’s table. Chazal did not prohibit bishul akum when the food is less important, because one would not invite a guest for such a meal, and, therefore, there is no concern that inappropriate social interaction may result (Rambam, Hil. Maachalos Asuros 17:15). Because of space considerations, I will leave further discussion of this important sub-topic for a future article. (Other aspects of the laws of bishul akum, such as the fact that smoked food is exempt from this prohibition, will also be left for future discussion.)

Let us explain some of these rules a bit more extensively.

I. Yehudi

WHAT IS CONSIDERED COOKED BY A JEW?

Much halachic discussion is devoted to defining how much of the cooking must be done by a Jew to avoid bishul akum. In practical terms, the Rama permits the food if a Jew lit the fire or increased the flame used to cook the food, even if he was not actually involved in cooking the food in any other way. On the other hand, the Shulchan Aruch requires that a Jew must actually cook the food until it is edible (Yoreh Deah 113:7).

II. Uncooked

A cooked food that can be eaten raw is exempt from the prohibition of bishul akum. For example, one may eat apple sauce or canned pineapple cooked by a gentile, since both apples and pineapples are eaten raw. Similarly, if the concerns of chalav akum and gevinas akum are addressed, one may eat cheese cooked by a gentile since its raw material, milk, is consumable raw.

Understanding this rule leads to several key questions. When is a raw food called “inedible?” Must it be completely inedible prior to cooking? Assuming that this is so; would the definition of “completely inedible” be contingent on whether no one eats it uncooked, or whether most people do not eat it uncooked, although some individuals do?

BUDDY’S SPUDS

An example will clarify my question. My friend, Buddy, enjoys eating raw potatoes, contrary to general preference. Do Buddy’s unusual taste buds mean that spuds are not a bishul akum concern?

The halachic authorities reject this approach, most concluding that we follow what most people would actually eat raw, even if they prefer eating it cooked (see, for example, Ritva, Avodah Zarah 38a; Pri Chodosh, Yoreh Deah 113:3; Birkei Yosef ad loc: 1, 9; Darkei Teshuvah 113:3, 4). In practice, different hechsherim and rabbanim follow divergent criteria to determine exactly which foods are prohibited because they are considered inedible raw.

BOGGED DOWN WITH THE CRANBERRIES.

Avrumie’s kollel’s question involves this very issue: “Someone asked how we can buy canned cranberries that are not bishul Yisrael. They seem to have all the characteristics of bishul akum.

Here is a highly practical result of the debate regarding what is considered suitable for eating uncooked. Are cranberries considered edible when they are raw? Someone who attempts to pop raw cranberries will keep his dentist well supported, since the rock-hard berries defy chewing. Thus, there is a strong argument that cranberries require cooking to become edible, and consequently are a bishul akum concern.

On the other hand, the deeply revered Cranberry Council provides recipes for eating raw cranberries by slicing or grinding them. Does the opinion of the sagacious Council categorize this fruit as an item that one can eat without cooking, so that we can remove from it the stigma of bishul akum? The advantage of this approach is a savings for a concerned hechsher, since it can now approve the esteemed berry as kosher, even when no mashgiach is present to push the buttons that cook the fruit.

GEOGRAPHIC INFLUENCES

What happens if a particular vegetable is commonly consumed uncooked in one country, but not in another? For example: I have been told that artichokes are commonly eaten raw in Egypt, but not in Spain, although they are grown for export in both countries. (Not being much of an artichoke connoisseur, we will assume for the purpose of our discussion that these facts are accurate.) Do we prohibit Spanish artichokes as bishul akum, whereas the Egyptian ones are permitted? Assuming that this boon to Egypt is true, what happens if you shipped the Spanish ones to Egypt? Do they now become permitted? And do Egyptian artichokes become prohibited upon being shipped to Spain? Indeed, I have heard that some rabbanim prohibit those cooked in Spain but permit those cooked in Egypt, depending, as we said, on whether local palates consider them edible at the time and place of production. The subsequent shipping overseas does not cause them to become prohibited, since it is cooking that creates bishul akum, not transportation. On the other hand, some contemporary poskim contend that shipping a cooked product to a place where it is not eaten raw makes it prohibited as bishul akum (Kaf Hachayim, Yoreh Deah 113:20).

CULINARY INFLUENCES

We have recently witnessed changes in the consumption of several vegetables that affect their bishul akum status. Not long ago, it was unheard of to serve raw broccoli, cauliflower, mushrooms, or zucchini, and therefore all these vegetables presented bishul akum concerns. Today, these vegetables are commonly eaten raw; for this reason, many rabbanim permit these vegetables cooked and do not prohibit them anymore as bishul akum.

A similar change might occur because of sushi consumption. When fish was not eaten raw, cooked fish was a bishul akum issue. Once it becomes accepted that certain varieties of fish are food even when served uncooked, those fish varieties will not be prohibited as bishul akum even if a gentile cooked them. I therefore refer you to your local rav to determine whether a raw fish suitable for sushi is still a bishul akum concern. Similarly, when it becomes accepted to eat raw beef liver, there will no longer be a prohibition of bishul akum to eat it broiled by a gentile – provided, of course, that a mashgiach guarantees that it is kosher liver and was prepared in accordance with halachah.

KOSHER CANNING

We are now in a far better position to analyze the issues that faced me that morning many years ago. I had been instructed to supervise a bishul Yisrael production, but I was not permitted to adjust the heat. Were the vegetables kosher or not?

The basic question is: Must a mashgiach participate in the cooking process in a modern cannery?

In the mid-80’s, when I was the Rabbinic Administrator of a local kashrus organization, I participated in a meeting of kashrus organizations and prominent rabbanim. At this meeting, one well-respected talmid chacham voiced concern at the then-prevalent assumption that canned vegetables do not present any bishul akum problem. At the time, virtually no kashrus organizations made any arrangement for canned vegetables to be bishul Yisrael, even when such foods were inedible unless cooked and of a type one would serve at a royal feast. Was all of klal Yisrael negligent, G-d forbid, in the prohibition of bishul akum?

STEAMING OUR VEGGIES

Indeed, many prominent authorities contend that contemporary commercial canning is exempt from bishul akum for several reasons.For example, in most canning operations, vegetables are cooked, not in boiling water, but by high temperature steam. Some authorities contend that Chazal never included steamed products under the prohibition of bishul akum, because they categorize steaming as smoking, an atypical form of cooking which Chazal exempted from this prohibition (Darkei Teshuvah 113:16).

Others permit bishul akum in a production facility, where there is no concern that social interactions between the producer and the consumer may result (see Birkei Yosef 112:9, quoting Maharit Tzalon). The Minchas Yitzchak (Shu”t 3:26:6) rules that one may combine these two above reasons to permit most canned vegetables today. Still others maintain that since a modern facility uses a cooking system that cannot be replicated in a household, Chazal never created bishul akum under such circumstances.

HONEST KASHRUS

Of course, someone marketing a product as bishul Yisrael is advertising that he is not relying on these heterim for his product; therefore, it would be strictly prohibited to sell these vegetables as bishul Yisrael, although whether they are kosher or not would depend on your rav’s individual pesak.

SO, WHAT HAPPENED IN THE CANNERY?

I presume that my readers have been patiently waiting to find out what happened to our ill-fated cannery.

A bit later in the morning, I was finally able to reach the rabbi responsible for the hechsher. He agreed that the production was not bishul Yisrael.

One would think that the hechsher would reward an alert mashgiach for correcting a kashrus error. Well, for those eager to develop a better world, let me tell you what ultimately resulted. A different rabbi was assigned to the job, someone less likely to call the overseeing rabbi so early in the morning. I guess that’s what happens when you don’t have the right connections.

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